Five Percent Back on Vegetables?

by Alex on September 25, 2012

in Health, Living

I’ve often said that my health insurance company should pay for, or at least subsidize, my gym membership. Between a typically gym, boutique studios, two pairs of running shoes a year, and a certain predilection for lululemon, exercising can become expensive. I do feel fortunate that I’m motivated and committed to maintain a certain level of fitness which in turn benefits my long range health outcomes. While I might not be thinking about preventing heart disease on my long runs, it is a preventive measure.

Although my insurance isn’t helping to pay for my workouts, Humana is now investing in what their customers eat. Last week Humana announced a new partnership with Wal-Mart that will provide more than 1 million members of its wellness program,”HumanaVitality”, a 5% discount on groceries. This program will launch on October 15 and is intended to encourage healthier food choices, which in turn could reduce health-care costs due to diet-related chronic diseases.

HumanaVitality members will receive a 5% discount (accrued through a membership card) on any of the “Great for You” products sold at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart developed a nutrition criteria at the beginning of 2012 as a type of front of package labeling. The “Great for You” criteria breaks foods into two tiers of criteria to meet. The first tier includes:

  • Fruit or vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned, dried and 100% juices)
  • 100% whole grain products (e.g., rolled oats, barley, popcorn)
  • Unflavored, low-fat or non-fat fluid milk and yogurt
  • Protein foods, including eggs, seafood, and poultry and meat products that meet or exceed the USDA definition of lean
  • Fats/oils and nuts/seeds (and spreads) with ≤ 15% of total calories from saturated fat

The second tier is a little more complicated and is focused on processed foods but sets limits for fat, sodium, and added sugars.

I’m cautious to think that a 5% return is enough to promote healthy food choices and change consumer behavior. I’m also concerned about canned fruits and vegetables, which can be a good option if they free of added sugar and/or sodium-free, being considered a “Great for You” option. Additionally, the 5% back is added to a membership card which can be used to purchase anything sold in Wal-Mart, including highly processed and not so healthy food items.

While this partnership could be a step in the right direction, I think it misses the mark. Providing consumers an automatic 5% discount on fruits and vegetables will directly impact their grocery bill and is an immediate cue for a positive behavior. I personally would struggle to remember to use my rewards on a separate card. And I’m guessing Wal-Mart does not have in place a system to monitor how the 5% back is used in stores.

Is this the next step for insurance companies in promoting a healthier lifestyle? If you’re listening Aetna, I’ll take 5% back from Whole Foods anytime.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica { EricaDHouse.com } September 25, 2012

Woah – this is huge! I’m surprised I haven’t heard of it. My gut is telling me it won’t make much of a difference in peoples eating habits but it’s great news for those who already make good choices!

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emily (a nutritionist eats) September 25, 2012

Very interesting, I hadn’t heard about this!
Are people who have insurance benefits considered mid/upper class? (I’m really not sure, just thinking that most lower-income families aren’t covered by a private insurance…) Too bad Wal-Mart won’t give a 5% break to anyone making healthy choices! I can dream, right? :)

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