Economic Value for Fit Focus

Natasha Singer, Can Sweatcoin, a Hot Fitness App, Keep You Off the Couch? The New York Times, January 7, 2018

Monetary Incentive

Where Sweatcoin’s approach differs from others, however, is in taking its ideas from behavioral economics, the study of how psychology and emotions influence our decision-making, to motivate people to exercise more. Its rise comes as insurers and corporate wellness programs are likewise furiously trying incentives — including passing out fitness monitors — to nudge people to improve their behavior.

Mr. Derlyatka said the app aims to overcome our human tendency to choose immediate gratification — like doughnuts or binge-watching videos — over activities like daily exercise that offer long-term benefits. By giving consumers points that can buy goodies, Sweatcoin hopes to incentivize couch potatoes to become more active.

Through the WI Lens

Sweatcoin illustrates two things: (1) the premise that “physical movement has economic value” and (2) the power of incentives: nudging people to improve their behavior. Even if the Sweatcoin app comes with severe downsides (as the article shows), the idea to offer a monetary incentive to keep fit will soon gain a lot of traction. Apps will progressively partner with sportswear brands, health services, health insurance firms, environmental groups and various advertisers. They will also invite employers to take part in schemes that encourage their employees to stay fit, or become fitter; possibly with the currency they earn converted into cash and paid alongside their salaries. Innovations like Sweatcoin will keep harnessing the fast-evolving power of technology to improve our health. They have the potential to be powerful solutions to the societal and economic challenges associated with un-wellness, but they also raise profound ethical concerns that range from privacy to security.

As they evolve, these technologies will become more sophisticated, subtler and as a result more invasive. We are not there yet (although the technology already exists), but the day will arrive when companies or governments implant embeddable chips under our skin and use bio-sensing wearable devices to track our activity behaviour.

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