Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Washington Post Features

September 5, 2012

Specialized coupon distribution promotes healthy eating

Cook from scratch. Eat foods in season. Buy locally. That is the conventional wisdom on what Americans must do to become healthier.

Ben Gardner does not agree.

The founder of Linkwell Health knows that Americans, especially those with chronic diseases, should eat better. Consumers with diabetes buy twice as many candy bars and more than twice as much Mountain Dew as their healthy peers, according to the research firm Nielsen, while patients with heart disease buy 10 times as many frozen dinners. But instead of trying to persuade these customers to purchase fresh produce and prepare a home-cooked meal, Linkwell offers them coupons for more healthful frozen dinners or diet soda.

In short, Linkwell doesn't let the ideal be the enemy of better eating, and the strategy is working.

Gardner's approach reflects his background, which is health care, not food. (He admits that for most of his life he was one of those people who would have happily taken a pill to fulfill their nutritional needs, though, he says, "the older I get, the more I enjoy food.") Health insurers had spent decades building sophisticated, and expensive, disease-management programs. And yet, given the skyrocketing rates of obesity and chronic disease in the United States, it was clear that they couldn't compete with slick marketing campaigns for chips, candy, soda and other unhealthful foods. Why not, Gardner thought, steal a page from the food companies' playbook to encourage more healthful eating?

"Instead of sending someone a 100-page booklet, which nobody reads, about how to manage your health, why not just give them a coupon that they can actually use?" says Gardner.

Americans do love coupons. More than 80 percent say they use coupons regularly, according to NCH Marketing, which tracks usage. In 2011, fueled by tough economic times, we redeemed $4.6 billion worth of coupons, a 12 percent rise over the previous year. Most of those, a quick peek through the Sunday papers will prove, are for unhealthful foods: soda, chips and snack cakes instead of low-fat cheese or whole-wheat pasta.

Text Only
Washington Post Features
  • McCain 1 House Republicans are more active on Twitter than Democrats

    Your representative in the House is almost certainly on Twitter. Your senator definitely is. But how are they using the social network? Are Democrats more active than Republicans, or vice versa? Who has the most followers on the Hill?

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 17, 2014

  • Search teams will send unmanned sub to look for missing Malaysian airliner

    Teams searching for a missing Malaysian airliner are planning for the first time to send an unmanned submarine into the depths of the Indian Ocean to look for wreckage, an Australian official leading the multi-nation search said Monday.

    April 15, 2014

  • DayCareCosts.jpg Day care's cost can exceed college tuition in some states

    Most parents will deal with an even larger kid-related expense long before college, and it's a cost that very few of them are as prepared for: day care.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 10 tips for surviving a severe allergy season

    My colleague Brady Dennis reported recently that the arrival of warmer weather will soon unleash a pollen tsunami in parts of the country where the winter has been especially long and cold. Here are some survival tips from Clifford W. Bassett, an allergy specialist and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

    April 9, 2014

  • news_twitter.jpg Travelers fly on Air Twitter

    The enlightened age of social media has dawned over the airline industry, casting shadows over telephone call centers and on-site agents. Facebook and Twitter are racking up the friends and followers while the hold music plays on.

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • To get quality care, it helps to be the right kind of patient

    I am a family physician. Sometimes I must step out of the comfort of my clinical role and into that of patient or family caregiver. Generally, these trips to the other side of the exam table inspire a fair amount of anxiety.

    April 8, 2014

  • Fast, cheap test can help save lives of many babies

    As Easley did more research into her daughter's death, she learned that a pilot program had started just months earlier at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. (Easley had delivered at a different hospital in the Washington area.) The program's goal was to screen every newborn with a simple pulse oximeter test that can help detect heart problems such as Veronica's, allowing doctors to respond.

    April 8, 2014

  • At many leading schools, football fails to make cut

    To my astonishment, 67 of the top 100 schools, ranked by participation in college-level tests, said they do not field a team, denoting a shift in American high school culture, at least in those schools that challenge their students most.

    April 7, 2014