Steps with Walgreens Balance Rewards: Walk The Talk?

Blue is the new green. Fitness and health are matching pace with the rapid evolution in sustainable technology; and I’m glad that I’m no longer the only person around wearing a Fitbit tracker – or being openly nerdy about the new biometric: self- quantification stats. Security-wise, there are still some layers of conspiracy theory that I’ve yet to peel away. Will these technology companies, not currently under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration; or by HIPAA regulation – do right by all this “medical Big Data” that they have? Could automobile insurance companies look at your lack of sleep the night before an accident and claim that “you brought it on”? Could medical insurance companies and pharmacies offer gimmicky incentives to motivate people towards voluntarily turning over this “ambient health data” and use such data to influence future decisions around supporting insurance coverage and claims?

Speaking of…Walgreens rolled out an interesting program recently, called “Steps with Walgreens Balance Rewards“. At first look, this is a great fit for a health nerd. Walgreens works with the likes of Fitbit to hand out points per every mile walked and other such activity-related incentives. Points eventually add up to dollars that can be spent at Walgreens’ stores; and its the same point-collection system for purchases at Walgreens – so it’s all very easy, intuitive and in one place. No additional hardware to buy, no sign-up fees, easy registration; and at the end of the day – free money for doing what you already do. Sounds like a win-win.

Let’s read the fine print…

Walgreens Balance Rewards - Benefits and the fine print

Walgreens Balance Rewards – Benefits and the fine print

It says “Limit 20 points per mile, 1,000 points per month.” Quick math would then indicate that it would take 5 months to “earn” $5 via this system. Money aside, let’s do the point-to-mile math. With a 1,000 point/month maximum and an earning rate of 20 points per mile, Walgreens Balance Rewards is essentially offering an incentive to walk or somehow log 50 miles in a month.

50 miles a month is about 1.67 miles every day for 30 days. Using a “Steps to Miles Conversion Chart” [PDF link] published by Temple University, this would be about 3,500 steps every day. However, a paper published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health indicates that anything under 5,000 steps per day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index’.

To be fair, Steps with Walgreens Balance Rewards does not enforce a Fitbit connection. One could log miles and activity in an ad-hoc manner, without any “validation” from the like of a Fitbit device / service feed. However, practically – one may end up giving a full feed of one’s daily ambient health data (Fitbit can capture walking, “active minutes”, sleep duration, water intake and weight through automated and manual methods) to Walgreens; in exchange for the opportunity to earn $5 after 5 months….and meeting a “sedentary lifestyle index” mark.

The Steps with Walgreens Balance Rewards states that it creates a rewards system to motivate steps towards a healthier life, but I wonder if this reward system was put through some real-world scenarios to truly motivate change and sustained gains. I’d much rather head over to EarndIt to get fitness-related discounts quicker or, better yet, to facilitate easy charitable donations.

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