Do you want Aeroplan miles for walking those extra city blocks? Or Petro-Points towards your next free tank of gas for getting the flu shot? There’s an app for that.

Researchers have partnered with industry and government agencies to develop the Carrot Rewards app that uses objective measures to reward Canadians with loyalty points for completing health quizzes and making healthy choices.

A research article published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth showed that over a three-month evaluation period in British Columbia (BC) the loyalty points drove app participation.

Here is a snapshot of the results:

  • The app was downloaded by 67,464 people during the initial three-month period (one year post-launch, the app has more than 300,000 registered users)
  • In its first week, Carrot Rewards app was the most downloaded health app in Canada (even though it was only available in BC)
  • Majority of users were females aged 18 to 34 years
  • 60% of users were classified as ‘very high’ engagers
  • BC residents from higher and lower income regions were equally represented

“The app is grounded in behavioural economics, a relatively new theory which suggests that by immediately rewarding someone’s good behaviours, with loyalty points in this case, there is a higher likelihood of adherence,” said Dr. Marc Mitchell, lead author and Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellow at Toronto Rehab, University Health Network.

This app provides a modest reward—for example, 5 to 200 SCENE points (1,000 SCENE points gets you a free movie) — depending on the timing and specific task, but it is consistently given in the present moment, which is key to the approach.

“The majority of Canadians are living with one or more behavioural risks for chronic disease, such as lack of physical activity or smoking,” said Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehab, University Health Network. “Technologies that are engaging and can help change behaviours, like the Carrot Rewards app, can potentially reduce the burden of chronic diseases.”

For the evaluation period, the app asked users to refer to friends, and take 1-2 health quizzes each week. Since then, the Carrot Rewards app has been rewarding Canadians for healthy behaviours such as walking and getting the flu shot. These are all measured objectively using smartphone technology. Through the participating loyalty programs, rewards are offered for gas, air travel, groceries and movies.

A next step for this app includes expanding to other Canadian provinces and territories (it is now available in British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador).

“What shows promise for the future of this app and incentive-based mobile health initiatives in general is that during the evaluation period the app had significant uptake in BC—and not only in high-income or urban areas, but also in lower-income regions and smaller cities and communities. This is an important finding given that lower-income Canadians tend to have greater health risks,” said Dr. Mitchell.

“Compared to other health apps, this had high and sustained engagement, setting the stage for the next phase of using the app to reward healthy behaviours.”

Carrot Insights Inc. developed the app, and facilitated partnerships with loyalty programs and charities that helped market the app.

The Carrot Rewards initiative was made possible in part through funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Dr. Marc Mitchell is an advisor for Carrot Insights Inc and discloses he’s received stock options.

 

Carrot Insights Media Contact:

Justin von Etzdorf