Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a loyalty scheme for physical activity behaviour change maintenance: results from a cluster randomised controlled trial

Ruth F. Hunter, Jennifer M. Murray, Aisling Gough, Jianjun Tang, Christopher C. Patterson, David P. French, Emma Mcintosh, Yiqiao Xin, Frank Kee

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We evaluated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a loyalty scheme based intervention involving rewards for increasing physical activity in public sector employees.

A cluster randomised wait-list controlled trial in public sector organisations in Northern Ireland. We randomly assigned clusters (1:1) using a computer generated random sequence. Researchers were masked to allocation, but participants were not. Employees aged 18–65 years with no self-reported medical contraindications to physical activity were included. The Physical Activity Loyalty Scheme (PAL) intervention was based on high-street loyalty cards where participants earned points for minutes of activity that could be redeemed for rewards, complemented by evidence-based behaviour change techniques. The primary outcome was objectively measured mean steps/day at 6 months using a validated pedometer (Yamax Digi-Walker CW-701) over 7 days, assessed with intention to treat analysis. Secondary outcomes included health, mental wellbeing, quality of life, work absenteeism and presenteeism, and use of healthcare resources. Cost-effectiveness, cost-benefit and mediation analyses were conducted. Trial registered with Current Controlled Trials, number ISRCTN17975376.

Between September 2014 and October 2015, we recruited and randomly assigned 37 clusters (from nine organisations; mean clusters per organisation = four) and 853 participants to the intervention (n = 19 with 457 participants) or control group (n = 18 with 396 participants). Primary outcome data were available for 249 (54·4%) intervention and 236 (59·6%) control participants. Mean steps/day were significantly lower in the intervention vs control group (adjusted mean difference = − 336, 95% CI: -612 to − 60, p = 0·02) at 6 months. Participants redeemed only 39% (SD 43%) of their earned points. Using the Quality Adjusted Life Year outcome, the intervention was not cost effective from an NHS/PSS perspective. A net cost analysis from an employer perspective demonstrated the intervention group was associated with a mean of 2·97 h less absenteeism over a 4 week period (p = 0·62), which could result in net savings ranging from £66 to £735 depending on the wage rate employed. At 4-weeks post-baseline there were significant increases in identified regulation, integrated regulation, intrinsic motivation, social norms and intentions in intervention compared to control participants.

Our mixed results pose challenges that are too infrequently exposed in public heath intervention trials. Although the intervention successfully altered several hypothesised mediating constructs it did not translate into long-term behaviour change. Our incentive level may have been too low to incentivise change, despite being designed a priori by a Contingent Valuation Survey. There were also major re-structuring of several organisations which presented significant implementation challenges, and technical limitations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number127
Pages (from-to)0
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Early online date12 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2018


  • Physical activity
  • Adults
  • Intervention
  • Behaviour change
  • Incentives
  • Effectiveness
  • Cost-effectiveness


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