Getting Paid to Lose Weight
Think about the money you’ve spent for years trying to get slim. Here’s a switch: Now someone might want to pay you for losing weight.
Governments, health insurers, and employers are experimenting with rewarding people for weight loss. They figure that obesity is linked to high medical bills (including the colossal expense of obesity surgery) and since money motivates people, perhaps paying people to lose weight will impact the bottom line.
Consider this sampler of weight loss interventions:
- A well-designed study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that people who won - or didn’t lose - money were about 8.5 times more likely to lose weight in a 16-week program.
- An interesting study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill showed that employees who were paid $14 for every 1% drop in body weight lost more weight than those paid $7; and, overall, those paid any money lost more weight than those not paid at all.
- A financial services firm in Texas pays employees $300 when they lose 10% of their weight within one year.
- An insurance plan in Milwaukee pays employees $5 for every 1% of weight loss up to 10% per quarter. They pay $5 a quarter just for trying!
- IBM employees can earn $300 a year for tracking their intake and output.
- The British National Health Service is sponsoring a trial of Weight Wins, a 13-month weight loss program that pays overweight people up to £425 ($700) to get down to their target weight and stay there for six months.
- The Mayor of Varallo, Italy paid 50 euros ($70) to men who lost 4 kg (8.8 lb) and women who lost 3 kg (6.6 lb) in a month. They got another 200 euros ($280) for maintaining the loss five months later.
In the University of Pennsylvania study, seven months after the 16-week study ended, some of the dieters in the incentive group regained weight. But still, the rewarded groups still weighed less than they did before the study began.
It’s safe to say that we don’t know much about how money affects weight loss. How much money does it take to get one’s attention? And for how long? What's the better incentive: a small cash payment or admission to a big lottery? withholding your own money and earning it back? or paying a penalty for not reaching goal? Do incentives work better for the poor? Do incentives reinforce disordered eating behaviors?
Bear in mind that people willingly take part and enjoy the game. Check out websites stickK, Make Money Losing Weight, and Fat Bet where dieters bet against their own ability to meet their resolutions.
Have you ever been paid to lose weight? Would you wager a bet against yourself? Are financial rewards appropriate for weight loss?