Residents of the English city of Wolverhampton are to be offered incentives such as theme park passes and cinema tickets for living a healthier lifestyle under a new government pilot programme.

Technology company HeadUp Systems is leading the app pilot, and adults in Wolverhampton are eligible to register their interest and sign up by visiting its website. Pilot participants will be given wrist-worn devices and access to an app which will generate personalised health recommendations, such as increasing their step count or eating more fruit and vegetables.

Users will collect points for healthy behaviours which they will be able to cash in for rewards which could include discounts for cinema or theme park tickets, and clothes or food vouchers. As part of the government’s healthy weight strategy, the new scheme will be part of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities’ (OHID) drive to use digital technology to improve physical health and prevent health conditions before they develop.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid (pictured), said: “This pilot is an exciting opportunity to see how we can empower people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle and I would encourage all adults in Wolverhampton to come forward and register their interest.

“Taking part will help us better understand how rewards can help motivate people to make small adjustments to their daily lives that will have a lasting positive impact on their health. I want to make it easier for people to make healthy choices and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is driving forward our levelling up agenda for health across the country.”

Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6bn (€7.05bn/$8bn) a year and the scale of the challenge has been highlighted by COVID-19 disproportionately affecting people who are overweight. With almost two-thirds of adults in England living with excess weight or obesity, the programme will focus on incentives and rewards for healthy behaviours, including increasing physical activity and eating better to support people to live healthier lives.

Following expressions of interest, the government said Wolverhampton was chosen due to its large population size, with a third of residents classed as being physically inactive and a below average number of adults in the city eating their five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.

The City of Wolverhampton Council expressed an interest in hosting the pilot scheme to support its ongoing work and significant investment in encouraging its residents to live more healthy lives.

Councillor Ian Brookfield, the Leader of the City of Wolverhampton Council, said: “We are working hard to improve the overall health of everyone in Wolverhampton by providing innovative solutions which can help our residents get more active.

“We are already making significant progress in tackling physical inactivity, improving infrastructure and making environmental changes to enable people to be more active, and we are delighted to be working with the Department for Health and Social Care and HeadUp on this important pilot programme to see whether offering incentives can help people make positive changes to improve their health and wellbeing.”

The Health Incentives Scheme under which the pilot falls was announced as part of a £100m package of government support to help those living with obesity to move closer towards a healthier weight and give them the tools they need to maintain this.

Following a competitive tender process, HeadUp was chosen to deliver the new scheme, with £3m also coming from the Department of Health and Social Care to provide incentives.

The pilot will launch in early 2022 and will run for six months with a view to rolling out the programme across the rest of England.

Image: SajidJavid.com