We are not as healthy as we should be as a country. Following Malta, the UK ranks second in Europe for fattest countries. And one study estimated that the obesity epidemic costs every person in the UK an extra £409 in taxes annually. That’s unacceptable — something simply has to be done.

What? Yet, despite millions being spent on public-health campaigns, it seems that we are still stuck on the couch and eating fast food without any apparent concern.

There is a need for a better approach. Wolverhampton is currently testing a new incentive program that offers residents incentives like free shopping vouchers, cinema tickets and admission to theme parks, in order to encourage healthy living.

The coupons — which some have termed ‘sloucher vouchers’ — will be given out to lazy locals who boost their exercise levels and improve their diet.

A new scheme being trialled in Wolverhampton involves residents being given incentives, such as free cinema tickets, shopping vouchers and theme park entry for making healthy living choices (file image)

Wolverhampton is currently testing a new program that offers residents incentives like free shopping vouchers and tickets to cinemas. This encourages healthy living (file image).

They’ll be given a fitness tracker linked to an app that will monitor things like step count and the amount of fruit and vegetables they consume.

The £3 million trial is part of a £100 million package of government measures to tackle obesity which, with related diseases, is estimated to cost the NHS an enormous £6 billion a year.

It’s going to run for six months and then may be rolled out across the country.

I’m going to admit to feeling rather conflicted by this. On the one hand I understand that the ‘nudge’ approach of gently encouraging people to make lifestyle changes by offering incentives often, in the long run, saves money.

The improvements made can mean money is saved on costly treatments linked to an unhealthy way of living — prevention being better (and cheaper) than cure.

The idea of incentivising people in this way isn’t actually new. One time, while working in a rehabilitation center for drug abusers, I was part of a study that examined the incidences of infections among drug users.

The struggle was difficult because nobody offered their help.

After months of failing to find patients willing to help, the study became an instant success. It was all down to money.

Because of its importance, it was decided to offer a small financial incentive to motivate people to take part in the research. The number of patients who were tested increased dramatically from just a few to nearly all of those I met, once this incentive was implemented.

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) says for lasting change people must themselves recognise the long-term benefits to their health, rather than be doing it for a night at the cinema courtesy of the taxpayer

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured). He believes that lasting changes are possible only if people recognize long-term positive effects on their health. Not just for entertainment.

It seemed like bribery at first. However, it became clear that I had to balance the ethical implications of financial coercion against the potential benefits of research.

Although it wasn’t easy to understand ethically, the strategy was practical and it allowed for a greater understanding of how resources can be used and reduced waste.

However, offering cash as a reward for participating in a research is not the same thing as bribing people into living healthier lives.

For one, there’s evidence that suggests that, while people are initially keen, in the long term they soon get bored. People most at-risk from poor health or obesity are more likely than others to return to the ways they used to.

A scheme is being looked at across the UK that could allow older drivers to avoid criminal prosecution for negligent driving. Drivers over 70 who have been tested could avoid paying a penalty and a fine for driving too slow or jumping on a lamp. This is a wonderful idea. It is safer for older drivers. From working in A&E, the people I worry about getting behind the wheel are young men. 

These bribes become less appealing, are no longer as interesting and have a lower value.

People must really desire to make lasting changes in order to achieve sustainable change. People must recognize the long-term health benefits and not just do it to save money.

This is yet another problem I have when it comes to schemes such as this.

As a taxpayer, I rather resent my money being spent on things like shopping vouchers for other people to get them to do the things — like going to the gym or eating healthily — that I do anyway. This seems unfair.

Yes, I understand that in a socialised medical model like the NHS we all have to carry the burden of other people’s choices and therefore it’s in all our benefits to do what we can to get them to improve things.

But still, while it’s probably the right thing to at least try, the scheme rather sticks in the craw doesn’t it?

Therapy A boob beats all Shirley, job

Dr Max said rarely do cosmetic procedures improve body confidence in the long term and certainly don’t fix the underlying problems in any relationship. Pictured: Shirley Ballas who had breast augmentation and liposuction in a bid to improve her self-esteem

Pictured: Shirley on the cover of Prima magazine

Dr Max said rarely do cosmetic procedures improve body confidence in the long term and certainly don’t fix the underlying problems in any relationship. Shirley Ballas, who underwent breast augmentation and liposuction to boost her self-esteem. 

Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas has spoken candidly about the lengths she went to to save her marriage before realising she was ‘doing it for the wrong reasons’. In an effort to boost her self-esteem, she also had breast augmentation. I feel for Shirley — I’ve seen so many women who have undergone similar invasive procedures under the misguided belief that it will help their relationship. The truth is these procedures rarely improve body confidence in the long term and certainly don’t fix the underlying problems in any relationship. If people want to know my opinion on cosmetic procedures I will always tell them the same: get psychotherapy for 2 years, which is much cheaper and improve your self-esteem. You can still have it done if you feel strongly about it. So far, not a single person who has gone through the therapy has had surgery, but they have all felt much better about themselves — and their bodies.

Dr Max admits that he doesn't buy that a third of us are walking around with a mental illness once the dark nights set in. Pictured: Mick Jagger wearing 'sad  glasses'

Dr Max admits that he doesn’t buy that a third of us are walking around with a mental illness once the dark nights set in. Pictured: Mick Jagger wearing ‘sad  glasses’ 

  • Mick Jagger has been photographed wearing ‘sad glasses’. No, not glasses that are uncool — these are the latest fad for treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where the symptoms of depression are triggered by the onset of winter. While I’ve seen a few patients over the years who seem to have a seasonal variation to their depression, studies suggest one in three people suffer. Really? What if a third of you are living with mental illness? I just don’t buy it. Feeling a bit down or miserable because it’s cold outside is not the same as being clinically depressed.

Dr Max recommends…

Qigong for endometriosis

Qigong, also known as Chinese yoga or Chinese meditation, aims to improve sleep quality, energy, and stress levels. Research has shown that it can also relieve chronic pain from conditions including endometriosis — a common and painful condition where the lining of the womb grows outside the uterus. If you’re unfortunate enough to suffer from this, there’s an online two-hour Qigong session on wellbeing website kaylolife.com — part of the site’s ‘endo week’.