I’m sure you are painfully aware of the dismal state of our country’s health and the significant economic impact it has on our country. Everyone is jumping on this with vague and general solutions, well everyone except those who are actually involved in providing the solution. I find it odd how little fitness professionals are featured on the talk show circuits or newspaper columns on how to get people healthier.
If you think about it, this is one profession that seems to be actually getting significant results in improving health, but we really aren’t doing much in the broad scheme of things if we don’t go beyond our little studios and gyms and share our successes from the trenches to the vast majority. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve been excited about being involved in writing articles, emails, blogs, TV show appearances, public speaking events, and especially blogs like this.
Here are just a few of my observations about how to get people to focus more on their health.
1. Give people money.
Yup, it sounds weird, but consumers will change behavior for a cash reward. Case in point – remember cash for clunkers? I think it was an incredibly futile program, but it did tell us a lot about how consumers are incentivized. It seems people react strongly to cash rewards for behavior.
If someone is given the choice of acting to avoid a penalty (fine), acting to save money (tax break), or acting to receive a reward (cash), they will almost always change behavior to go for the reward. Other obvious examples of this are cash rewards for helping solve crimes or cash back bonus for credit cards and purchasing new cars.
So if Cash for Clunkers motivated people to get rid of perfectly fine cars in exchange for a more expensive one they really don’t need, then maybe a Cash for Clunkers program would work? The federal government, employers, and insurance companies could give people a cash reward for significant body fat reduction, and pay in installments if the weight was maintained for two years or more. This would be a one time deal to prevent repeat offenders. Yes, I understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but we can’t ignore the powerful effect of how the majority are incentivized.
2. Show them results quickly.
Despite what many healthy people think about those who are overweight – they aren’t ignorant of the health consequences of their current status, and they can likely write a book on the theories of every weight loss diet there is. The problem for most is that they’ve tried and failed so many times. They are also confused, frustrated, and defeated. They aren’t lazy, they just want to see results so they can know that their hard work and sacrifice is amounting to something. Especially because the alternative is so good (at least for the short term).
Research and real world application shows that people can lose fat rapidly. And contrary to popular belief, research clearly indicates that those who lose weight rapidly have better long term results. So we should emphasize strict diets (and forget this moderation gradual loss garbage that clearly doesn’t work) individually designed, with periodic breaks (the forever diet isn’t too effective either), coupled with proper exercise (no, not walking programs) and a healthy dose of support and accountability.
Also, we need to teach them weight maintenance strategies, which is different from weight loss strategies. Then we will see real results. More importantly, those who experience the results will be empowered by their victories and finally realize the health improvements they deserve.
3. Give corporations a break.
Yes, the evil corporate America needs a break. Give food producers tax breaks, subsidies, whatever to incentivize the production of healthier foods. Forget corn, let’s make berries and broccoli cheap as dirt, and grass fed beef at every burger shack. How about tax incentives for companies who invest in corporate wellness programs, funding for labs studying effectiveness of exercise and nutrition interventions, and tax breaks for companies in the health and wellness field (I really like that one J).
Different from consumers, corporations are driven by demand and by cost cutting. If government can have anything to do with this solution, it would be to do what they’ve done best to sway production and as a result consumption – reduce the cost of doing business for companies.
I realize that my simplistic solutions don’t do justice to the complexity of the issue, but we need to start where we know we can make progress. At the very least, fitness professionals need to be in the mix. After all, who has a better track recording for getting results?