Lose weight with cash incentives: Do overweight people need a bailout?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Yes, you can lose weight, at least for a price.

A study in this week’s JAMA proves, if you show them the money, they show you the weight loss.

Researchers randomly divided 57 obese participants (54 were men) from a VA hospital into three groups, all with a goal of losing 1 pound a week for six weeks.  All met with a dietitian for one hour on the initial visit, and were given an accurate scale for home use.  The three groups were given different incentives.

  • First group: Money was deposited in their account.  In addition, they could add $0.01 to $3 each day, which was matched if they lost a pound that week.  They received additional incentives if they called in during the week having met specific daily goals.  If they did not lose the weekly pound, money was taken out of their account.
  • Second group: They could win $10 (one in 5 chance) to $100 (one in 100 chance) a week if they met their weekly 1-pound goal.  Also, they could win up to $3 a day if they met called-in daily goals.
  • Third group: This was the control group with no financial incentive other than the $20 per week everyone received for the weekly weigh-in.

In group two, those who lost over 20 pounds received an added $50.  In group one, the big losers got $50 plus the pooled money the others forfeited.  This ended up totaling about $95.

The results at the end of 16 weeks:

  • Group 1 lost an average of 14 pounds.  (36.8 percent lost over 20 pounds)
  • Group 2 lost 13.1 pounds average.  (26.3 percent lost over 20 pounds)
  • Group 3, alas, lost only an average of 3.9 pounds.  (5.3 percent lost over 20 pounds.)

So are you listening, Congress? :)

Actually, it seems incentives do work.  But don’t wait for a federal bailout.  Find your personal incentive, something that makes healthy weight valuable to you.

What is yours?

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8 Responses to “Lose weight with cash incentives: Do overweight people need a bailout?”

  1. Mark Says:

    I guess we are a money motivated society? Most individuals tend to be motivated through pain or pleasure. Very interesting indeed. thank you.

  2. Sagan Says:

    Much as I hate the idea that money is what we’re all drawn to, I’m almost 100% positive that if I were given such an incentive as money to exercise each day or to not eat cake etc, I would totally be able to do it without a problem.

    Right now, my skinny jeans are my incentive. I want to always be able to fit in them and not feel uncomfortable in them.

    My other incentive is pure happiness. I’m HAPPY when I’m strong and eating well and at a healthy weight and NOT obsessing over it all. Knowing that it makes me feel good is the perfect motivation.

    Sagans last blog post..Life Lessons: Food Photo Diary

  3. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    I guess we are, Mark. At least in this case

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Great incentives, Sagan.

  5. Dr. J Says:

    I don’t know what to think about this! I guess I’ve squandered a lot of opportunities to make money over the years :-)

    Dr. Js last blog post..Looking for an independent woman? Check out her waist

  6. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Dr. J, if you are like me, think of how much money you could have made losing that 10 lbs over and over

  7. FatFighterTV Says:

    Seriously – don’t wait for the government to bail you out on this one. :)

    FatFighterTVs last blog post..Top 10 fitness trends for 2009

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    I agree, FatFighter.

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