Paid to Lose Weight

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As study after study has shown, losing weight and keeping it off is difficult for most people. There may be a variety of reasons why this is the case, from a biological tendency to maintain stores of body fat to difficulty maintaining motivation beyond a short period of time. But whatever the barriers may be, many researchers are convinced that almost any behavioral change is possible when people are given the right incentives. And what greater incentive is there than money?

In a study whose results were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in March, researchers devised a program in which volunteers were given $20 each month if they lost four pounds and kept it off. According to a HealthDay article on the study, 100 obese adults were recruited through their employers to take part in the study. These participants were divided into four groups: two in which financial incentives were offered, and two in which they were not. All participants were given weight-loss education, while one group in each of the incentive and no-incentive arms was also given a structured weight-loss program. Among the participants who were offered financial incentives, those who lost four pounds at the end of each month were given $20, while those who did not lose the weight had to pay $20 into a pool that was divided among all participants who completed the twelve-month study.

At the end of the study, the power of financial incentives was clear. Among the participants who were offered them, 62% remained in the study, while only 26% of participants who were offered no incentives remained. Average weight loss in the incentive groups at the end of the study was just over 9 pounds, while it was only 2.3 pounds in the no-incentive groups. It remains to be seen, of course, whether incentives can have a helpful effect beyond the length of a year, or whether larger incentives or more ambitious weight-loss goals could lead to an even greater benefit.

Do you think offering people money to lose weight is a good idea? Would you participate in a program that paid you to lose weight, or fined you if you didn’t reach your weight-loss goal? Should employers or health insurers be required to offer paid weight-loss programs? Is there a danger that paying people to lose weight might take away their motivation once the payments stop, or that the practice might make them forget that their health is at stake? Leave a comment below!

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