Incentivizing Healthy Food Choices for Better Health

By Adriana Selwyn

One year ago today, John Hancock and Vitality embarked on a collaboration to create a whole new type of life insurance: a shared value approach whereby financial benefits from individuals living healthier and longer lives can be reinvested to the benefit of the insurer and the customer.

Today, John Hancock Vitality announces the launch of its HealthyFood benefit, a program that rewards members for eating well. With poor diets the leading cause of ill-health in the United States, novel approaches to incentivize healthy eating have never been more important. And with the improvements in health and years of life to be gained from improving diet quality, life insurers are perfectly positioned to intervene.

The HealthyFood benefit provides up to a 25% discount on qualifying healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. In the United States (US), the benefit is offered at 16,000 stores across the country through two national partners: NutriSavings, a network of major grocery retailers, and Walmart.

Research from South Africa, where the program was first developed, shows that discounts on healthy foods given to Vitality members resulted in significant increases in healthy food purchased at the supermarket as well as decreases in less healthy food purchases. Further details of the benefit, including the science behind the program can be found in our joint John Hancock Vitality white paper, “Incentivizing Healthy Food Choices for Better Health” which was released today.

Not only does shifting consumers toward healthy dietary patterns benefit their health, it also benefits the environment. High rates of red meat consumption, for example, are not good for our health and not environmentally sustainable. In the US, annual red meat consumption per person is more than 110kg per year, far exceeding the recommended 23kg. The resource-intense nature of producing red meat means it would be more environmentally sustainable if consumers ate less of it.

Data on the environmental implications of changes in food purchasing behaviors attributed to the South African Vitality HealthyFood benefit confirms this. An estimated 8-13% reductions in land use, 7-12% reductions in water use, and 8-10% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions result from people purchasing less meat and more fruits and vegetables.

The link between human health and planetary health is unequivocal. This has been the focus of much research including the Rockefeller Foundation-Lancet Commission on Planetary Health. A recent study estimated that shifting diets toward more plant-based foods could reduce 6-10% of global mortality, and cut out 29-70% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to food production by 2050.

In the face of climate change, the challenges of feeding a growing population and the increasing rates of diet-related diseases, this link must not be ignored. By incentivizing the purchase of healthy foods, the John Hancock Vitality HealthyFood benefit helps to make the healthy choice the easy choice, benefiting people, business, and the planet.


The HealthyFood program is coming to life today, Wednesday 6 April 2016, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal with an interactive John Hancock Vitality Marketplace. Visitors will be able to enjoy delicious healthy food samples and test their healthy food knowledge while earning rewards for the healthy choices they make, similar to the ones earned through the John Hancock life insurance with Vitality program. Renowned chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio will stop by to serve up some tasty dishes and show visitors how to navigate healthy options when they’re at the grocery store. If you are in NYC today, come by Grand Central Station to visit, anytime from 9am to 3pm!

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