July 11, 2013

The Role of Business in Promoting Health

Behind the mic with Marty "The Healthy Guy" Menard... 

Individuals, community organizations, and governments all have roles to play in improving political health. However, one cannot underestimate the role of business either. This post will not be focused on the pros and cons of capitalism, but rather on areas where businesses can contribute better than governments

To help make this case, I have done a Q&A with Marty the Health Guy – owner of Elite PersonalTraining Studio and spokesperson for BestLifeRewarded – in response to his podcast on Incentivizing Health with former CFL linebacker & University of Toronto Clinical Researcher Marc Mitchell dated May 11, 2013.

Rob Z: In your podcast, you and Marc Mitchell indicated legislation is not an effective way to improve health. What is your main reason for this?

Marty: Governments are simply not suited, given the strong influence of lobbyists and special interest groups. Bureaucratic institutions move too slowly to react and resort to incremental changes if any changes at all. Small to mid-size businesses are not subject to the same level of bureaucracy and therefore, can adapt and make changes faster. As 80% of all taxable revenues come from small businesses, the power to influence change in their communities is clearly in their hands.

Rob Z: Given your preference against legislation, would you be able to explain why we should focus on incentives?

Marty: Legislation is an intellectual process, and if you look at long-term health non-compliance, the problem lies in the emotional, not the intellectual. We all know we are supposed to eat right and exercise, but when faced with emotional and lifestyle restrictions such as heavy workloads, family life and consequent stress, the belief we can infringe on personal freedoms and legislate behaviour is not a long term plan. And we have to take into consideration the individual’s freedom to make unhealthy choices.

Rob Z: One of the incentives you mentioned was paying it forward. Would you be able to further elaborate on this idea and other incentives?

Marty: The pay it forward approach is being used and tested in a variety of health settings that include both medical and fitness health compliance (mostly the former). It’s based on ‘incentivizing’ healthy behaviour in the form of rebates upon confirming exercise attendance, nutrition compliance, etc. One example close to home is Marc Mitchell’s work at The Toronto Rehab Centre, where he is using financial incentives to reward participants for making their scheduled appointments, doing their exercises at home, etc.  When we take into consideration 93% of Canadians are members of at least one rewards program (e.g. AirMiles, Optimum), it’s fair to say this approach can be a powerful method for real change.

Rob Z: Do you believe there are any areas where legislation can be effective?

Marty: Of course I believe there are areas where our local governments can be effective. For instance, setting zoning requirements to increase physical activity such as parks, adding bike lanes, multi-use trails, etc. And with the obvious positive ‘green’ benefits to this type of local political work, makes this a powerful mandate for all local governments as we move into the 21st century.

Rob Z: Recently, I finished reading “A Healthy Society” by Ryan Meili, which argued governments could focus on health determinants such as income. Do you feel this could be another area where legislation could be effective?

Marty: It’s obvious (or at least should be) that lower income families have a higher rate of unhealthy members due to lack of access to higher quality foods, fitness opportunities, etc. Though I personally support progressive taxation, as well as tax benefits to increase community wellness, I think it’s an unrealistic expectation that our government has the ability to address the long list of varying needs and issues.

Given the incremental and time consuming nature of legislation, it is clear that no stakeholder – individual, community group, or business – should wait for governments or other stakeholders to act on issues we choose to be passionate about. 

The time to act is now and all it takes to act is one to engage others, as well as perseverance in the face of difficult odds.

Rob Z (e-mail)


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