An interview with Elizabeth Naulls and Dr Subashini Mm, Aviva UK Health


Recent research from Aviva found that only 43% of UK adults are a healthy weight. The study also found that although 36% of UK adults say they want to lose weight or improve their BMI, only 16% are motivated to eat a more balanced diet and 13% to exercise more regularly. In this interview we gain a further insight into the findings of this research with Dr Subashini Mm, Clinical Transformation Lead at Aviva UK Health and Elizabeth Naulls, Senior Propositions and Market Development Manager, Aviva UK health.

The recent Aviva Health Check UK Report found that more than a third of UK adults want to lose weight but are favouring ‘quick fixes’ over proper lifestyle changes. What are some of the most common of these quick fixes?

Some of our customers also tell us they would consider joining a gym or being more active, particularly at the start of a new year. We believe that being more active should be part of shouldn’t be seen as a ‘quick fix’ so it’s something we actively encourage and we are able to offer our PMI customers discounts at over 500 gyms across the UK.

The research also found that only 43% of UK adults are a healthy weight. This suggests more people should be aiming to lose weight than the third of adults that currently are. What do you think is causing this discrepancy?

There has been a phenomenon of normalising obesity. Size inflation of clothing sizes have made it difficult for people to recognise excess weight. These issues were in fact highlighted by the Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, in her annual report on state of the public’s health in 2014. Moreover, it has been an issue that everyone thinks about: losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution but when the message is always out there, it loses its focus and impact.

A lack of consumer knowledge was shown with 71% saying they didn’t know their calorie intake and 24% reporting they don’t fully understand food labelling. What steps do you think can be taken to improve this?

There have been several commendable steps that have been taken to make nutritional information consumer-friendly. However, more needs to be done. The traffic light labels are very useful but possibly a different type of infographic such as a bar showing how much calories they have left for that day after consuming any food product might be more impactful. Engaging technology to aid this process i.e. calorie counters via scanning a barcode as opposed to manually entering the weight/ portion size of food items can also ease these needs. This needs to take place across the food industry, not just packaged food. So nutritional information on restaurant menus and takeaway menus is necessary as part of the concerted effort to raise awareness. Of course, there has to be more effort in educating people too, so nutrition programmes in schools will also be beneficial.

Aviva customers insured on our Healthier Solutions product have access to Myhealthcounts, an online wellness and health management tool that can actively help customers to manage and maintain a healthy lifestyle, including taking steps to lose weight. What’s more, customers can even get a discount at renewal every year just for using Myhealthcounts – so it pays to be healthy!

The research shows that a large number of adults fail to exercise as much as they should due to barriers such as finding it boring, being too tired and not having the time. How do you think more people can find time for, or change their perception of exercise?

Firstly, exercise is usually advertised by young and slim models running against a sunny background near a beach or practising yoga against a scenic background. It is hard for the exercise novice to relate to that message and anyone with the intent to exercise can find the first step of going to a gym rather daunting, more so for the individual who also has body confidence concerns. More adverts such as ‘This Girl Can’ which shows normal people of all ages and sizes being active will serve to normalise physical activity as something anyone and everyone can participate in. Secondly, it is true that we are increasingly pressed for time in a world with less and less down-time. Instead of having exercise as a separate activity that is seen as another box to tick, the best way to keep more people active is to find ways to integrate it into their life. Going for a walk with your partner instead of watching television to wind down after a long day would mean that you spend more time talking to them but also you are ‘exercising’ and to top it off, it is free!

MyHealthcounts can help our customers overcome these challenges by encouraging them to find ways to build exercise in to their daily routines and to find an exercise regime that really suits them. With practical advice and support it can also help customers keep track of the impact this is having on their overall wellbeing. For our customers, seeing small but regular improvements in their overall health is a great way to stay motivated and staying motivated is often the key to forming healthy habits for life.

With the start of 2016 now underway, many people will be undertaking diets and exercise plan but often these efforts will fail to sustain throughout the year. How do you think people can ensure their lifestyle changes carry momentum on a long term basis?

As mentioned above, diet and exercise sounds very clinical and almost far removed from what we recognise as normal life. But, they are integral to a healthy life. The answer to this is in the fundamentals of behavioural change. It is how we frame the issue. We often associate dieting with restriction and it is usually a solitary activity. Healthy eating is a normal part of life and essentially involves sticking to a meal plan that is well-thought out, with due consideration given to the nutritional and calorific content. Ensuring that healthy eating is embedded within normal family life would make it easier to maintain momentum. Similarly with exercise, walking your children to school, using the stairs instead of lifts, walking the dog are all activities that people might not necessarily associate with exercise but that is how incorporating activity in your life starts.
Our customers tell us that having the support of our health and wellbeing tool (Myhealthcounts) has really made a difference in making them think differently about their diet, exercise and overall wellbeing. This is great news as the tool is free to use and access is unlimited meaning that it’s there for customers when they need it. We are working hard to keep evolving our wellness platform to ensure that this meets the ever changing needs of customers and the fast pace of health and fitness technology, mobile apps and data.

What single lifestyle change would you single-out for people as being the most important change to make for the year ahead?

I would recommend being kind to yourself, not just your present self but to your future self. Everything you are doing now will catch up with you in the future so make the right decisions with your future self in mind.
I would recommend finding something healthy that you and a friend or family member can enjoy together; whether it’s trying a new healthy recipe to help you kick the takeaway habit , jumping on your bikes or trying a new exercise class together, it’s always better when you can share a new (healthy) experience with someone else.

Source : Aviva