Taking a bite out of life insurance premiums

(BPT) – We are bombarded with messages about the importance of making healthy choices every single day. While the latest exercise and nutrition trends can be complex and often contradictory, we all know the basics: eat right, stay active. Still, it can be difficult to make healthy choices in the moment.

The stakes of our choices are high. Poor eating habits, overconsumption of unhealthy calories and lack of physical activity can directly contribute to chronic diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. And yet, knowing the basics for staying healthy and the possible consequences of unhealthy habits, why do we choose cupcakes over carrots or skip the gym in favor of “just one more” Netflix episode on the couch?

It turns out there is science behind this phenomenon. Behavioral economics and evidence tell us that when making decisions, people are biased toward the present rather than the future. Immediate rewards and benefits often override the potential long-term consequences of our behaviors, such as weight gain or future health problems. The satisfaction of the candy bar today can outweigh the possible effects of an unhealthy diet down the road.

While we can turn to trainers, nutrition experts and medical professionals for valuable advice and resources on how to be healthy, new motivation is coming from an unlikely source: a financial services company. John Hancock has teamed up with Vitality, the leader in global wellness programs, to offer life insurance that rewards policyholders for their healthy habits. Think of the program as a safe driver discount for a life insurance policy — the more healthy activities policyholders complete, the more savings and rewards they earn.

Plus, to offset those naturally human unhealthy impulses, John Hancock adds an extra nudge to help consumers make healthy choices today. By taking small steps with long-term health benefits — such as heading to the gym or getting an annual check-up — policyholders can earn immediate rewards in the form of Starbucks or REI gift cards, hotel and travel discounts, plus up to 15 percent off annual premiums. They’ll even get a free Fitbit to help track their progress. And in its second year, the program has added a HealthyFood component. This new feature means policyholders can earn up to $ 600/year in savings on grocery bills by purchasing healthy foods.

This added benefit is especially helpful given that healthy foods often cost more than less healthy choices. One 2013 BMJ Open study found that on average, healthier diets cost about $ 1.50 more per day, per person, than less nutritious diets, a number that can add up and lead well-intentioned people to settle for unhealthy purchases at the grocery store.

In addition to rewards and savings, the program helps cut through the cluttered health and nutrition landscape. Individuals can find more than 15,000 qualifying foods at more than 16,000 participating grocery store locations. And with access to nutritional information and guidance from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, as well as smartphone apps, online resources and even a user-friendly shopping list tool, it’s easy for policyholders to make healthy choices.

Why would a life insurance company want to promote healthy eating? “There is strong evidence that a nutritious diet is one of the most critical components to living a long and healthy life. By providing a life insurance solution that rewards people for making healthy food choices every day — and make it affordable to do — we believe we can help improve and protect the quality of their lives,” says Mike Doughty, president and general manager of John Hancock Insurance.

To learn more about John Hancock life insurance with Vitality, visit www.jhrewardslife.com.

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