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Paying People to Lose Weight Actually Promotes Significant Weight Loss

By Mike Adams, December 10, 2008 | Key concepts: Weight loss, Body fat and Financial incentives

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Newly-published research reveals that financial incentives are remarkably effective in motivating people to lose weight. In a study involving 57 subjects, half were rewarded with a lottery prize if they achieved the weight loss goal (16 pounds), and the other half were asked to make a substantial cash deposit (several hundred dollars) which they would forfeit if they failed to lose the 16 pounds.

The results? The incentive groups lost about 4 pounds more than the non-incentive control group. About half the participants in both incentive groups met the 16-pound weight loss goal, earning $272.80 in the lottery group and reclaiming $378.49 in the deposit group.

What this fascinatingly reveals is that many people consider a financial incentive to be far more important than protecting or improving their own health. The promise of simply "being healthier" doesn't work for many people, but flashing some cash seems to work relatively well to incentivize their weight loss efforts.

This study, of course, has larger implications: Should society create financial incentives that pay people to stay healthy? From a purely economic point of view, it would certainly be worth the investment, given the extremely high costs of medical care associated with obesity and all the diseases it promotes (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.).

Imagine a society where you get a check from the government for $100 each month as long as you keep your body mass index below a certain number. That's where this research could be leading us to.

It's not a bad idea, actually. If the population is so complacent about their own health that they need to be paid to take care of themselves, then creating financial incentives may be the best way to move people towards greater health and fitness.

After all, Coke and Pepsi use "rewards" programs to convince people to drink more sodas, and those programs work extremely well. McDonald's uses its silly Monopoly game to get people to buy more burgers, and that motivates people, too. Perhaps it's time that the pro-health forces in society used the same psychological tactics to motivate people to exercise and lose excess body fat.

Imagine a "fitness lottery" where every month that you maintain a certain body weight goal, you get entered into a national lottery. Somebody wins $1 million each month, and they get highlighted in the press for being healthy and rich. It's a positive image, and it taps into the lotto mentality of a population that loves prizes... even prizes that are mathematically so remote that believing you'll ever win is probably a waste of time.

Personally, I find it fascinating that people don't find enough self-incentive to stay healthy without the use of financial incentives. But I'm also a proponent of just going with what works, and if money works to make people healthier, I say we should use it.

Cash for weight loss? Why not!

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Paying People to Lose Weight Actually Promotes Significant Weight Loss

From Health.usnews.com: "Compared with the control group, the lottery group lost a mean of 13.1 pounds and the deposit contract group lost a mean of 14 pounds. About half of those in both incentive groups met the 16-pound target weight loss, 47.4 percent in the deposit contract group and 52.6 percent in the lottery group, whereas 10.5 percent in the control group met the 16-pound target," wrote the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine and the Wharton School.... more

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