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Encouraging good health - Untangling the truth

Most consumers realise that making changes to health and diet can have a positive impact on their health but, as Sammy Rubin writes, motivation and encouragement is still needed

It is difficult to avoid the barrage of information surrounding health-related topics such as obesity, cancer and smoking. Society is fed this information daily from every conceivable media outlet. Some of it is interesting, some of it terrifying but much of it is already known. What can be confusing though - if not plain contradictory - is the advice that comes along with these health-related topics.

Trying to take on board every piece of advice or act on all the information provided by healthcare experts and the media is almost impossible, not least because it would take a great deal of time and patience, which for the majority is not an option as they juggle work and family commitments. Yet it seems that almost every day a new piece of research reveals something else the public should be aware of, or a suggestion of something people could be doing in order to keep fit and healthy.

Health themes

Despite the mountain of information, research and advice available, there are several key themes emerging. The World Cancer Research Fund released its expert report in October 2007 with a list of 10 recommendations on how to prevent cancer. The recommendations were based on the report's findings and covered a range of issues such as diet, weight, physical activity and alcohol consumption. The WCRF's recommendations hone in on the main areas of health and diet on which people could actively make a positive difference if they choose to do so. The report suggests that basic changes like eating healthier and doing a small amount of exercise daily, for example, could help prevent cancer.

It would be fair to say that for the majority of people these recommendations are not particularly revelatory, nor are they impossible to implement in theory. The problem for most people tends to lie in how exactly to make these changes to life in practice in a way that is easily applicable on a daily basis. Although most people fully understand the benefits of making even minor changes, in reality it is just not that easy, and most - if not all - would appreciate a little motivation and encouragement.

What would be ideal would be the ability to incorporate these changes and be rewarded for doing so. This is not a new concept in the health insurance industry. Being rewarded for participating in healthy activities and actively making the effort to stay fit and well started in South Africa in the early 1990s, and moved to the UK in 2004.

The idea is that rewards will encourage health insurance policyholders to make the efforts to improve their health - a fairly simple concept, but a powerful one. But why limit it to health insurance products only? It is a frenetic world after all, and what is needed is simplicity not complexity. People need to consolidate insurance products and save time and money where possible.

Imagine if life insurance, health insurance and income protection policies all required people to stay fit and healthy, and it would be possible to get lower premiums for all three if they did so. Engaging in healthy activities and being rewarded for it is applicable to everyone, protection insurance policyholders included, and can be made the core of protection products.

Financial rewards

Consumers can be offered the motivation to keep fit and healthy with the promise of financial rewards. One could argue that this is a 'carrot and stick' approach, but in the UK where the national health service is increasingly under pressure and there are growing occurrences of obesity and conditions such as diabetes, the fact is the general public could do with the encouragement. Everyone knows what they need to do - they see and hear it in the media every day - but what they really need is the help to do it.

Society is becoming increasingly sedentary. Decisions about how to live are based on a range of factors often centred on issues of ease, convenience and time-saving. It is the same with private medical insurance and protection products.

The decision to buy certain products is also based on a range of factors, primarily focusing on coverage and price. Consequently, if there are products that offer the option of bringing down premiums by focusing on personal health as well as that of family, customers can be safe in the knowledge that they are protected when they need to be - and even when they don't.

- Sammy Rubin is chief executive officer at Pru Protect.

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