What can make people lose weight? Money, study finds

The Globe and Mail

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People are more likely to lose weight when their money’s at stake.

Those are the findings of a new study that involved 100 obese Mayo Clinic employees given the chance to win or lose $20 (U.S.) every month for a year for their progress, or lackthereof.

All of the participants got a three-month gym membership, weight-loss counselling and the dreaded monthly weigh-ins, but half also got financial incentives. The goal? Shed four pounds a month up to a desired weight. If they failed, they were forced to forfeit the $20 they’d put in for that month, with the penalty going into a fund paying rewards to those who did meet their target – a painful lashing. If they succeeded, they got a voucher to collect that money back at the end of the year.

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Over the course of a year, the dieters lost an average of nine pounds, not really enough to substantially boost their health, but four times more weight lost than dieters who weren’t bribed. (Those guys only lost 2.3 pounds, on average.)

Financially, 27 of the 50 respondents came out ahead. Just 15 people earned the maximum $360 over the year, weighing in diligently every month and maintaining their weight loss. One such participant lost 40 pounds, from 215 pounds to 175. She put her hard-earned cash toward a holiday.

The researchers suggested that people need creative strategies to lose weight, and that money can “improve compliance and adherence.”

According to Bloomberg Business Week, more than two-thirds of companies are trying out workplace financial incentives for healthier employees, from quitting smoking to dropping pounds. Penalties are key in this arena, experts agree.

“Fear of losing money tends to motivate people about two and a half times more than the prospect of gaining the same amount of money, so we intentionally designed the incentives so that participants would have some of their own skin in the game,” study co-author Steven Driver told Bloomberg.

Would you lose weight for money? Would it work long-term?