​​ Dr.Marc Mitchell
Dr. Marc Mitchell, lead author of the study, is a Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellow at Toronto Rehab, University Health Network. (Photo: Carrot Insights Inc.)

 

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? Well, now 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 the loyalty points drove app participation. 

"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," says Dr. Marc Mitchell, the study's lead author and a Canadian Institutes of Health Research post-doctoral fellow at Toronto Rehab, University Health Network. 

 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 B.C.)
  • Majority of users were females aged 18 to 34 years
  • 60 per cent of users were classified as "very high" engagers
  • B.C. residents from higher and lower income regions were equally represented

This app provides a modest reward — for example, five to 200 SCENE points (1,000 SCENE points gets you a free movie) — depending on the timing and specific task. But the points reward is given right away, which is key to providing incentive for the positive behaviour. 

"The majority of Canadians are living with one or more behavioural risks for chronic disease, such as lack of physical activity or smoking," says Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehab, UHN. "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 Carrot Rewards app asked users to refer it to friends, and take one to two health quizzes each week. Since then, the 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.

aeroplan app
The Carrot Rewards app has more than 300,000 registered users. (Photo: Carrot Insights Inc.)

Carrot Insights Inc. developed the app, and facilitated partnerships with loyalty programs and charities that helped market it. The Carrot Rewards initiative was made possible in part through funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

A next step for this app includes expanding to other Canadian provinces and territories – it is now available in Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as B.C. 

"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 B.C. – and not only in high-income or urban areas, but also in lower-income regions and smaller cities and communities," says Dr. Mitchell, who is an advisor for Carrot Insights Inc and discloses he's received stock options.

"This is an important finding given that lower-income Canadians tend to have greater health risks.

"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."

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