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Obesity-combating smart-card proposed – but wouldn’t an exercise incentive be more effective?

The following post is written by guest author Paul Richards, CEO of Club Physical in New Zealand.

Thinking positively, I would firstly like to congratulate the NZ Ministry of Health for even considering incentivising people to purchase healthy food in a bid to combat obesity. This is a step in the right direction, but I imagine it would only impact people to a minor degree and not have the desired outcome of improving people’s lifestyle habits enough to reduce obesity.

The ‘smart-card’ system will almost immediately cost the tax-payer money. Wouldn’t it be wiser, especially considering the current economy, to consider smarter options?

What really needs to happen is an aggressive high impact incentive to encourage physical activity, and the best way to do this is to REWARD people directly in the pocket! Importantly for the government, this is simple and involves no major up-front cost for the tax-payer. Canada has led by example and is already giving a tax-credit for children’s fitness programs.

Rewarding exercise would have no impact on tax revenue until well into next year. Even then, the reduced tax-take due to more people exercising should be offset by less sickness and the positive impact of exercise on health. In other words, we should save money on the health budget; particularly if this new idea were marketed correctly to the public, perhaps something along the lines of ‘The Government Wellness Incentive – incentivising YOU to stay well’.

Each person could include a receipt in their tax-return for money invested in a physical activity program (with a registered provider). This could be a credit of up to $500; or whatever is budgeted by the Government to be an achievable amount. The results from an exercise program will far outweigh getting ‘smart-card’ savings on a healthy loaf of bread!

Furthermore, research has shown that an exerciser, not wishing to compromise their efforts, is less likely to make poor food choices. When you start feeling good about yourself, you’re less likely to stuff it up!

Often a government’s answer to a problem is to throw massive amounts of money at it. The NZ government marketed its ‘PUSH PLAY’ physical activity initiative and had TV commercials featuring an overweight guy hosing his car as exercise. It’s time to give up this ‘bull’ and tell it like it really is. Washing your car once a month isn’t going to impact your health! And the lack of results won’t motivate people – but adopting a DAILY workout program for life will!

The answer is to go to the root cause – the person making the decision to either sit and play computer games, or to exercise. Motivate them to take action. The government needs to stand up front making a strong statement – ‘Exercise is good’ – we’re behind YOU and we’ll reward you for your efforts!’

What do you think? Should the government, both in New Zealand and Australia, incentivise fitness? And if so, how would this be monitored – would proof of gym membership be enough? Share your thoughts below!

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Posted by: Corey Slade | 02-Dec-2009 05:40 PM | 5 out of 5 stars

Well done Ryan. I think you have it all summed up very well.
Now how do we lobby the governments to do it...?
How about the peak aussie & NZ fitness bodies launch a program similar to 'GetUp' - calling for support & donations from trainers, clubs & all their clients to sign & then deliver to Govt's.
That might get us started - what do you think?