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Ahh Those Sneaky Insurance Companies!

Although the first place you might look for grocery coupons is your Sunday newspaper, you might also want to look in your mailbox.  The reason is because many insurance companies have begun sending their customers food coupons in order to incentivize them to eat healthier.

Evidence seems to point to it working also, as in 2012 (the last year for which data is available) the purchase of “healthy” food items went up by almost 53% according to a white paper that was commissioned by Linkwell Health.

Linkwell has created content about healthy eating for 15 different insurance companies including Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others. Their report said that the purchase of seafood among shoppers rose 95% and, for vegetables, it was 15%, while the purchase of processed meat and sugar fell 44% and 50% respectively.

“There’s a high literacy rate of coupons,” said Ben Gardner, founder of Linkwell Health.  She believes that by giving shoppers coupons their insurance companies are providing the extra push that they need to eat healthier, something that their doctors might already have recommended.

The fact is, eating healthy actually costs approximately $1.50  more per day per person. Those statistics come from a study that was released by the Harvard School of Public Health and is due, from what the report says, to the fact that the main thing shoppers  typically have to keep their prices down are in-store sales when they’re looking to purchase things like fresh produce. The coupons help bridge that gap.

It’s a good idea to take the recommendations from your insurer with a grain of salt however. The Linkwell study showed that insurer coupons were the main reason for a 197% increase in the purchase of things like low-sodium and low-fat deli meats. “If the coupons are driving a ‘healthier’ processed meat, a ‘healthier’ less-processed snack food, I’d be concerned about that,” said Dr. Davis Liu, author of “The Thrifty Patient.” “It’s still processed meat.”

Liu added that “In general what’s healthier is more fruits and vegetables, less meat and smaller portions,” he said. “Just because it’s cheaper, that doesn’t mean you should buy it, or buy more of it.”

In fact, many of the coupons that insurers send their customers are far from healthy, including coupons for things like ice cream, pasta and mayonnaise that are loaded with fat, salt, cholesterol and chemicals.

It is a step in the right direction however and, according to Linkwell. The main problem to avoid is to tell consumers that half of their plate (or more) should be fruits or vegetables because it will simply cause them to avoid changing at all.

The simple fact is that, while a frozen dinner that’s been prepared with waistline conscious consumers in mind might not be anywhere near as nutritious as a home-cooked meal, it’s certainly a better choice than some of the other frozen meal options on supermarket shelves. In other words, it’s a step in the right direction.

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