Five Percent Back on Vegetables?

by Alexandra London-Gross 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.