The best thing that can be said about the government’s latest anti-obesity scheme is that it’s cheap. For now. The new HeadsUp app, which will track people’s diet and exercise regimes and reward them with cinema tickets, clothes vouchers and the like, has a price tag of £3 million. This is peanuts in public health terms. The NHS burns through £3 million every eight minutes. It amounts to 4p for every man, woman and child in the UK.
The bad news is that it is only a pilot scheme. If bribing people with their own money is seen to ‘improve rates of physical activity and inspire healthier eating’, as the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly Public Health England) expects, it will go nationwide and the budget will rocket upwards. Four pence per person is nowhere enough to provide ‘vouchers, merchandise, discounts and gift cards’ for everyone who signs up to put more carrots in their shopping basket and increase their step count. It will barely pay for the admin.
According to the government’s press release, the app will monitor your behaviour, make suggestions and reward you for living a healthier lifestyle:
From January 2022, a pilot will see users wear wrist-worn devices that can generate personalised health recommendations, such as increasing their step count, eating more fruit and vegetables and decreasing portion size.Users will collect points for these healthy behaviours which will unlock rewards, which could include gym passes, clothes or food vouchers and discounts for shops, cinema or theme park tickets.
The most likely beneficiaries of this are those who eat their greens and enjoy jogging; the kind of people who have for years been wearing ‘wrist-worn devices that can generate personalised health recommendations’, such as FitBits.