Thursday, 16 April 2009

Health bribes

Would you give up an unhealthy habit if you were paid to do so? That's what the NHS believes, and they're running some trials to see if the lure of cash will persuade people to give up smoking or lose weight.

In Kent fatties are being offered £425 to slim down by 50 pounds and keep it off for six months. Pregnant women in Essex can get £100 in food vouchers if they give up smoking for a year.

The idea is that a financial incentive will have more effect on people than merely telling them they're damaging their health - or their child's health. We're all tempted by a bit of filthy lucre.

I very much doubt if this is the case. Unhealthy habits are so deeply engrained, so much a part of your whole personality and even your social life, that I can't see money being persuasive for very long. For a month or two maybe but not permanently.

If I was a couch potato and I was offered some cash to take regular exercise, would I succumb? I might do for a while, but sooner or later the familiar mindset would take over and I'd think "God, this walking business is boring. Plodding around looking at grass and trees. I'd rather be watching a good movie." And that would be that.

In fact research has already shown that paying people not to smoke only works as long as the money's being paid. The same is true of weight loss. So I'm not sure why the NHS is pursuing what seems to be a failed idea.

It could be expensive too. If they paid every heavy drinker to cut down on alcohol, the bill would be ruinous. And suppose the boozers just spent the money on fags instead?

At the end of the day, the only thing that promotes good health is healthy role models. Perhaps some of those gluttonous, overweight politicians could show us the way?

20 comments:

Thriftcriminal said...

How about making cigs more toxic? That way they get finished off quicker and cost the NHS less in health care. I'd say if you put about a campaign of "We've spiked one in a hundred packs with anthrax" people would give up pretty quick :-)

Nick said...

Thrifty - You certainly believe in the drastic solutions! Fags are toxic enough already, I'm amazed people smoke them in the first place knowing what they do to your lungs (and everything else).

Grow Up said...

I'm in a devil's advocate sort of humour.

Liz said...

If you stand on the back of the scales like that, you weigh less. I know about these things.

Nick said...

Grow Up/Thrifty - I'd noticed! (Hope you don't get a third hat, that would be even more confusing)

Liz - Ah, I knew that too. Though fortunately I don't need to cheat, my weight is remarkably stable!

Grow Up said...

I need to be more consistent in my use of browser (I'm using google chome mostly for the GrowUp side, but slip up when I comment from Firefox)

Baino said...

Thrifty/GU whoever you are *hehe* you're being a meany! Nick, I reckon I'd find a financial incentive to lose weight a great idea. It could pay for a gym subscription. Not just a cash handout but maybe a rebate on fees? Not sure about smoking (em I am one of those filthy people but only smoke half a cig and not many) It's a habit so needs behaviour modification not cash. And you're one of the lucky people who has clean habits and no weight problem! See if you can give up cheese! I'd pay to see that!

Nick said...

Baino - A gym fee, that's a good idea. I'm starting to think I could do with a gym just to keep my ageing body in proper working order. Give up cheese? As you may know, I gave up being a vegan because I missed cheese. No amount of cash would stop me eating it!

conortje said...

I'd be very interested in the results - I'm not so convinced it's so easy. I also wonder how someone will prove they haven't smoked in a year.

Nick said...

Conor - Judging by the time periods, we may have to wait quite a while for the results. Good point about proving you haven't smoked. Perhaps I could claim I've been smoking for years and get paid for stopping? (cue hacking cough)

Wisewebwoman said...

This has the tinge of insanity about it, will these people succumb to blood tests, etc. The nanny state in full swing.
Addiction is addiction is addiction. And symptomatic of deeper issues.
Money is absolutely no incentive.
Sometimes I shake my head in awe at the sublime stupidity of DemsWotRulesUs.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

www - Indeed, are they thinking blood tests, urine tests? The mind boggles. As you say, addiction is a symptom of much deeper issues that need to be dug out. Money isn't the answer.

Grannymar said...

I never smoked ( well I never looked ;) )I drink little and was never over weight. I want some of that money. Who can I sue for discrimination?

Nick said...

Grannymar - Very true, how come those who damage their own health can get some cash while we who look after our health get nothing? And we have to pay for the others to be treated. There's no justice....

Suburbia said...

That's unlikely isn't it?!

I think you are right, a lot of unhealthy habits are addictive, offering money isn't going to cure the addiction.

Nick said...

Sub - Some form of therapy would probably be more effective in the long run than money, but I guess that would be way too expensive for the cash-strapped NHS.

gaudiumdegaea said...

Well it might or might not work, but remember they are not doing this to appeal to your intelligence and understanding in life, it's those people who they are targeting. If they all thought/comprehended everything the way you did, they wouldn't be doing what they are doing harming unborn babies or killing themselves slowly... So perhaps the money thing might work.
The way I look at it is this: Habits are formed by repeated actions. Perhaps this might work, if they do something for long enough, they see the benefits also besides the money and they might pick up a healthier habit...
Or it might not work at all, but hey, it's creative and I am all for it, until it's proven to be a useless practice.
My thoughts. :)
Gx

Nick said...

Gaye - Okay, the voice of the ordinary person, fair enough. You might have a point about them seeing the benefits after money has changed their behaviour for a while. It'll be interesting to see if these trials actually work.

Quickroute said...

I used to smoke but thankfully saw sense early on and quit - I doubt financial incentive would have helped - I like to think it takes deep inner strength to quit a vice not external bribery and pampering

Nick said...

Quicky - You're right, I think deep inner strength is exactly what's needed if you want to change a bad habit for good and not just a few months.