IBM Patents System to Pay for Healthy Eating

An apple a day could actually pay.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    An apple a day could end paying.

    IBM's always been looking out for the best interests of humanity, even when its robots school us at Jeopardy. A patent granted to IBM just a few weeks ago outlines a system they're working on for tying financial incentives in with healthy habits, such that eating well and getting exercise might actually pay off with real money.

    The patent, entitled "providing consumers with incentives for healthy eating habits," is a computer system that can assign a health factor to a food item (such as an apple or a Twinkie) based on what the system knows about you, your health history, your exercise history and what you like to eat. For example, maybe you decide to have an apple and a Twinkie for lunch at work. You get some reward points for the apple, plus bonus points because the system notices that you haven't been eating enough fruit recently. You don't get anything for the Twinkie, and then according to the patent, all your points get revoked when the system somehow notices that you tried to ditch the apple in the trash can without eating it. We don't know how IBM would know, but apparently they'd know.

    IBM sees this idea as a win-win, because the extra money that companies would pay out to their employees turns into long-term healthcare savings. For its part, IBM has been offering "wellness rebate programs" since 2004 that provide incentives for exercise, healthy eating, weight loss and quitting smoking. Between 2005 and 2007, these programs saved IBM nearly $200 million in healthcare costs, and you can bet that the IBM employees were happier, too: forget about being healthier if you want, but they were going home with fatter paychecks to boot. So this all sounds great, then, except that a system like this does to some extent tie your personal life into the paycheck you get from work. And even if it's technically an incentive, there's still a financial relationship there that you'd have to think about.

    We've been having an argument a discussion over here at DVICE HQ about whether there's really a difference between a constantly applied incentive and a constantly applied deduction. Like, is saying "we'll pay you $X more per day if you eat healthy" fundamentally different than saying "we'll pay you $X less per day if you don't eat healthy." The numbers may turn out the same, but the perception is entirely different: in one case, you're getting rewarded, and in the other, you're getting penalized.

    What do you think? Would you be in favor of a system like this, and would you view it as a blessing or a curse? And if anyone works at IBM and takes part in their wellness rebate programs, we'd love to hear how that's working out for you.

    USPTO, via Slashdot

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