Wolverhampton to pilot app that rewards healthy behaviours

Tool is aimed at helping local residents eat better and exercise more

The City of Wolverhampton is piloting a mobile app that will reward users for behaviours considered to be healthy.

Aimed at helping residents eat better and exercise more, the app sees HeadUp Systems as the technology supplier following a competitive tender. Any adult resident of Wolverhampton can express their interest in participating in the trial through the supplier’s website.

A wrist-worn device will give access to the app, which generates personalised health recommendations for the user. This can include increasing their step count or eating more fruit and vegetables.

As a reward for their healthy behaviours, participants in the trial will be able to collect points, which can be exchanged for rewards. These could include discounts for cinema or theme park tickets, and clothes or food vouchers.

The pilot is supported with £3m funding from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to provide incentives. It will launch in early 2022 and run for six months.

Encouraging residents to take part in the pilot, health secretary Sajid Javid said the initiative is an opportunity to see how the government can “empower people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle”.

He added: “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.”

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 from developing.

After expressing an interest in hosting the trial, Wolverhampton was chosen because of its large population size, with one-third of residents classed as being physically inactive. Also, the city has a below-average number of adults eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

The DHSC said obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS £6bn a year and this has been worsened by Covid-19, which has disproportionately affected overweight people. The department said the Wolverhampton project is part of a £100m government drive to help people living with obesity to move closer towards a healthier weight and give them the tools they need to maintain this.

The initiative follows the news that nearly half of the UK’s adult population has access to digital healthcare. According to the DHSC, the NHS App is currently the most downloaded free app in England. This was driven by the addition of the NHS Covid Pass – the Covid-19 vaccination status service – on 17 May after joint work by NHSX and NHS Digital.

On the other hand, concerns have been raised over confidentiality and transparency in government data innovation, particularly in health and care, with some initiatives causing controversy, particularly among privacy campaigners.

In a recent blog post, national data guardian Nicola Byrne commented on her response to the government’s draft data strategy for health and care, emphasising the need to be open with people about who might be able to access data about them and why, and to use clear and unambiguous language to do so.

Byrne also noted the need to acknowledge risks as well as selling the benefits of using confidential information. “People know that, generally, there are risks associated with data use, so these need to be addressed for any specific use and context, alongside saying what is being done to mitigate them,” she said.

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