Oral Presentation Australian & New Zealand Obesity Society 2014 Annual Scientific Meeting

Using incentives to stimulate behavioural change (#33)

Simone Pettigrew 1
  1. Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia

Attempts to change individuals’ behaviour take many and varied forms, including ‘upstream’ approaches, such as laws and regulations, and ‘downstream’ approaches, such as information and education campaigns. At the heart of these behaviour change strategies is the notion of exchange – people do things to get something in return or to avoid losing something. Incentivising behaviour change is a downstream strategy that involves explicitly drawing attention to the short-term gains that can be attained by compliance with the recommended behaviour. Incentivising firmly acknowledges the importance of “What’s in it for me?” from the individual’s perspective and involves identifying relevant behavioural triggers. Programs are then developed to offer attractive and appropriate rewards for compliance with recommended behaviours. In the context of health, this strategy is becoming increasingly apparent in the health and life insurance industries. Comprehensive reward programs are being developed and offered to new and existing members. These programs act as both a source of competitive advantage relative to competitors’ offerings and a means of reducing long-term operating costs by improving members’ health. Rather than relying on complex cognitive processing of particular health problems (e.g., obesity), the possible consequences of these problems (e.g., increased risk of disease and reduced mortality), and the actions required to avoid the condition (e.g., physical activity, nutrition, and sleep), incentives work by focusing individuals’ attention on small, manageable actions and the positive outcomes that can accrue from undertaking them. The aim is therefore to bypass the often-flawed assumptions of rational decision making, and instead to cater to more emotional and hedonic needs. This presentation will outline the principles of behavioural economics that underlie the practice of incentivising and discuss these in the light of current trends in the insurance sector.