Government may consider financial incentives for healthy living initiatives

The government has hinted for the first time that it may be prepared to consider offering financial incentives to employers to encourage them to invest in healthy living initiatives for their workers.

Up to now, the Treasury had dismissed the idea of tax breaks for firms that invest in workplace health, but in January the issue raised its head again within a £372m cross-governmental strategy to promote healthier lives.

The five-pronged strategy, led by the Department of Health, will see the government promoting a range of initiatives, from better health and food in schools, through to healthier workplaces and personal lives and encouraging more physical activities.

As part of this, ministers said the strategy  would look at creating “stronger incentives for individuals, employers and the NHS to prioritise the long-term work of improving health”.

The government would also be “working with employers and employer organisations to explore how companies can best promote good health among their staff and make healthy workplaces part of their core business model”.

Finally, there would be pilots to “evaluate a range of different approaches to using personal financial incentives to encourage healthy living”.

The strategy will also see the NHS Choices website extended to provide advice on diet and activity levels and how to maintain a healthy weight.

At the same time, there will be increased funding over the next three years for the commissioning of weight management services, ministers said.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said: “It is not the government’s role to hector or lecture people, but we do have aduty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles. This will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed in every part of society.”

The announcement came as latest NHS statistics showed more than one million NHS prescription items were dispensed to treat obesity in England in 2006 – eight times the number dispensed in 1999, according to the NHS Information Centre for England.

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