What can we learn from New Zealand’s ‘fittest city’ title?

What can we learn from New Zealand’s ‘fittest city’ title? | Insurance Business

What can we learn from New Zealand’s ‘fittest city’ title?

AIA has released its ‘Fittest City’ study as part of the launch of its health and wellbeing programme, AIA Vitality, and has crowned Wellington as New Zealand’s ‘fittest city.’

The study was co-authored by Dr Caroline Shaw from the University of Otago and Professor Alistair Woodward of the University of Auckland, and it found that 27% of Wellington’s commutes are being done on foot – more than anywhere else in the country. The capital also took first place for trips made by public transport.

Meanwhile, Auckland’s status as a ‘super city’ meant it scored significantly lower in comparison, a trend echoed by the ‘growing city’ of Hamilton, which has seen significant population growth over the past few years. Dunedin received the best score for light vehicle CO2 emissions, and Christchurch saw the highest number of annual cycling trips.

AIA said the purpose of the report was to identify how ‘active transport’ options could impact the health and wellbeing of the population. It also aimed to provide some insight into how an insurer may influence the behaviour of its customer base, and nudge policyholders towards healthier everyday habits.

“There are four main modifiable factors – physical activity, healthy diet, smoking and alcohol – which lead to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers and respiratory and cardiovascular disease,” AIA head of wellness Candice Smith explained.

“These diseases result in 62% of deaths worldwide, and 89.5% of deaths in New Zealand. That’s an incredibly high number, but there is also an opportunity here to prevent premature deaths, simply by changing those behaviours.

“The report really looks at how policy changes, infrastructure and transport design can impact physical activity, and the main question is how to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

“People are busier than ever before, and they only consider the quickest way to get from A to B – or, in the case of our customers, they also consider whether they’ll have their gym membership subsidised,” she added. “It’s about making the healthy choice the easy choice at every level, and that’s what we work incredibly hard to do.”

Professor Woodward of The University of Auckland, who co-authored the ‘Fittest City’ study, says that almost half of all adults fail to meet the “very modest” standards set by the World Health Organisation when it comes to physical activity. He says the personal cost to individuals is huge, and the cost to health services is astronomical – and very easily preventable with even a small shift in daily habits.

“For 95% of our species’ existence, we survive by our ability to move – so it’s not surprising that being inactive is profoundly abnormal, as far as our bodies are concerned,” Woodward explained.

“The diseases that are related to lack of activity are very common, and extremely costly – in the billions of dollars per year. There’s a basic principle in public health that the biggest gains are achieved by making healthy choices the easy choices, and the second principle is that the brightest opportunities lie where a win-win intervention can be found.

“There is an opportunity to build activity into our day-to-day routine – getting to and from work by your own power, for example, can be part of automatic activity that you do on a daily basis. And cities where people get around on foot, by bike and by scooter, etc., are better, more intimate, happier and cleaner places.”

When it comes to insurer participation, AIA Australia and New Zealand CEO Damien Mu says wellness programmes such as AIA Vitality are a key step towards directing the public towards the right path when it comes to personal health. He says the Vitality programme was trialled to much success in the Australian market – a success that was partly down to enabling healthy choices through a reward scheme, much like the win-win scenario outlined by Professor Woodward.

“We’re really excited about AIA Vitality and the impact it can have on people’s lives,” Mu said.

“We’re creating a new way of thinking about life, because when people usually think about life insurance, they don’t think about health and wellbeing – they think about the other side of that. We want to be there to help people be well, protect their futures and make sure they get the most out of the life they wish to live.”

Mu explained how over the last year alone, Vitality recoded 115 billion steps taken by its members in Australia along with 370,000 health and wellbeing assessments. A further 15% also went on to take a mental health assessment – an issue Mu says is one of the biggest challenges faced by society today.

“These statistics are exciting because we’re helping people to find out about their health, and helping them make small improvements to their habits,” Mu said.

“We also reward clients for healthy behaviour – we pay $100 back every quarter in Australia if they go to the gym twice a week, which not many insurers do. We also have incentives around flight points and shopping vouchers, and that’s really about nudging people in the right direction when it comes to health.”

“We’re thinking about how we can help partner with people throughout their lives, and help them live the dream,” he concluded. “We’re really passionate about doing that.”