So much for the image of Aussies as enjoying a fit and healthy outdoors lifestyle.

Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare* (AIHW) reveal some worrying home truths. Two out of three (63%) adults are overweight or obese – a figure that has increased by 10% since 1995. Around 30% of men aged between 18 and 64 exceed the lifetime alcohol risk guidelines; and one in three (32%) adults nationally have high blood pressure.

Let’s not beat around the bush. These figures show many Australians are in poor physical shape – painting an alarming picture of our national health. Moreover, separate figures from the AIHW** show coronary heart disease, which is closely linked to obesity, was the leading cause of death in 2013, claiming the lives of over 11,000 men and almost 9,000 women in a single year.

It’s a very human tragedy but it also has a direct effect on the life insurance industry. That impact doesn’t appear set to lessen either. AIHW data shows the next generation of Australians is following our footsteps straight to the cookie jar with one in four children described as overweight or obese.

A carrot or stick approach?

Insurers have responded to this growing obesity epidemic in a variety of ways. Some are tightening their criteria for policyholders with a very high Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measure of obesity.

Others have taken more of a carrot rather than stick approach. In particular, AIA launched its health and wellbeing program – AIA Vitality, designed to encourage greater physical activity among policyholders.

The idea is that AIA customers complete an online AIA Health Review that highlights the state of their health. From here, customers can select various health goals, using AIA’s program partners to get healthier. Reward points are earned at various stages, which can be used to claim a reduction in AIA’s life cover premiums or enjoy discounts on other rewards including flights and retail purchases.

A valuable retention tool

It’s a step in the right direction providing a win-win for both consumers and insurers. As a bonus, programs like this may also serve as a marketing and customer retention tool – one that helps to transform, what is often seen as a grudge purchase, into a health-linked product.

Across the industry, offering incentives to customers who take better care of their health can also be a means of engaging a younger generation of customers, who may otherwise postpone purchasing life cover until later in life.