The UK government is continuing to face pressure to do more to reduce the prevalence of obesity and reduce the £5.1 billion bill to the NHS due to managing obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Tackling this problem is going to require a radical step-change in how everyday people understand nutrition, exercise, and how they use that information to change their habits. In the new report "Fighting Fat: A Role for Food Retailers," Oliver Wyman's Duncan Brewer suggests ways that large retailers can help their customers create a virtuous cycle of behaviour change that improves their weight and health while also delivering a real benefit to the businesses' brands:
Obesity is clearly a hefty problem and a large number of different initiatives have been proposed. These range from the new Sugar Tax on soft drinks, to efforts to encourage uptake of sport after the 2012 Olympics. However, one thing these efforts have in common is that they only address one aspect of the weight-loss equation:
Uniquely, food retailers are in an ideal position to encourage people to eat more healthily, increase their activity levels, and connect these to health and wellness outcomes. By becoming health and wellbeing champions (transforming their brands in the process), they can build a virtuous cycle of behaviour change:
1) Helping people eat more healthily
A simplification of the "traffic light system" currently used on UK food labels can make it easier for customers to understand their food choices. We recommend moving it from three different levels across five indicators to a simple -2 to +2 score (with +2 representing the healthiest products, and -2 the least healthy), which is then multiplied at the checkout by the number of portions purchased, providing an overall ‘score’ per shop.
2) Encouraging customers to increase activity levels
Self-reporting of activity can be done easily through apps or wearable technology, and for those who cannot afford their own Fitbit or Jawbone, supermarkets could provide pedometers at a lower cost than their existing loyalty programmes. Supermarkets can utilise their excess space as gyms, driving additional footfall and providing more convenient exercise locations. In addition, by partnering with other exercise companies, customers could swipe their loyalty card every time they exercise or take a class.
3) Connecting behaviour to health and wellness outcomes
Community-based health checks have been shown as effective at engaging hard-to-reach groups. The supermarkets can, through simple, low-cost walk-in clinics, provide a range of simple wellness checks for customers. The retailers can provide a simple, web- or app-based tracker to link the shopping, activity, and health data together. This can create a virtuous cycle for customers; they can directly see how changes to their behaviour drive changes to their health.
By providing these capabilities, retailers can manage the nation’s waistline in a way that generates more loyalty (and profit) for themselves, while helping the UK population manage their health more effectively.
In addition, by having fewer obese people in the population, in the short and long term the NHS can spend less on treating obesity-related conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It’s a win-win for all involved.