financial incentives help people lose weight

financial incentives help people lose weight

A study, published by Science World Report, had a group of people try to lose 4 lbs per month for a year. At the end of each month, those who lost the weight earned $20; those who did not had to pay $20.

money stacks of bills

"The participants were told to achieve the goal of losing 4 pounds per month up to a predetermined goal weight. The researchers kept track of their body weight every month for almost one year. The researchers told the participants in the incentive groups that they would receive $20 per month if they achieved the goal. And those who failed to achieve the goal would need to pay $20 each month that gets into the bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who finished the study were entitled to win the pool by lottery. 
The researchers noticed that 62 percent of the participants in the incentive group achieved the goal, while just 26 percent from the non-incentive group hit the target. The mean weight loss of participants from the incentive group was 9.08 pounds and the mean weight loss for the non incentive group was 2.34 pounds. 
"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives,"

I'm not surprised that having some skin in the game would increase your results, but I am surprised by how big the differences are with just a $20 penalty. ($40 marginal swing). I know plenty of people who pay that much for a gym membership and never set foot inside the place.

So what was the difference? Being involved in the study? Paying money into a pool that somebody else would win? The competition behind it? All of these are factors of public accountability, which is a great motivator towards achieving goals.

Regardless of the reason, the results are undeniable: 62 percent vs 26 percent; 9.08 pounds vs 2.34 pounds.

If you're trying to lose weight, maybe it's a good idea to get a partner involved and put some money where your mouth is...

-Chris Butterworth

image credit: Reuters

Hat tip to Freakonomics' Paying People to Lose Weight, where I first read this story.