According to a U.S. study, obese people are more likely to lose weight fast if there is money riding on the success of their weight loss program through any kind of financial incentives. However, the study also found that they are even likely to gain back the weight once this monetary carrot is gone. The study, which was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, proved that losing cash due to their failure to lose weight motivates people in their weight loss program. People who participated in this program received weight loss counseling. Some of them signed a “deposit contract”; according to this contract the participants had to deposit funds in an account. The funds were matched and awarded to the participants at the end of a particular period of time, provided the participants have achieved their targeted weight loss goals. And when they failed to lose weight, they lost their money.
It was observed that participants who deposited funds had an average weight loss of nine pounds, over the period of eight months; on the other hand, people who had no money to lose if they fail to achieve their targeted weight loss goals lost only one pound. Leslie John of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania led the study. She believed “Financial incentives produced significant weight loss over an eight-month intervention. However, participants regained weight post-intervention.”
Around 66 adults (mostly men) with BMIs of 30 to 40 participated in the weight loss program. They were randomly assigned to have a weight loss counseling session with a dietician along with monthly weigh-ins; while others had the same program along with a deposit contract. Participants with the “deposit contract” were allowed to deposit up to $3 per day. The researchers matched the account with dollar-for-dollar. If the participants had reached their targeted weight loss goals at the end of the month, they were allowed to claim the money. The weight loss goal was up to one pound per week.
The reason behind this incentive program was the age old belief that people respond more readily to any immediate threat, which is related to losing money. Even the health and fitness related problems are considered as distant threats, when it comes to losing money. In this weight loss program, the threat to lose money if they failed to lose weight fast worked as a motivation and pushed the participants to lose weight successfully. Through dieting and other means of weight loss only 7 of the total 66 participants met the weight loss goal of shedding one pound every week over the period of the first 24 weeks of the total eight months.
Around nine months after this weight loss program ended, the participants with the “deposit contract” were found to have gained back most of their weight.
Some other studies too have suggested similar results where incentives program helped obese people to lose weight fast. Another research team, which conducted a study on weight loss last year, too reported that giving free prepared calorie counter meals as a part of their structured weight loss program has help many obese people to lose weight successfully.
Leslie John believes that more research needs to be conducted to find out if it is possible to extend the initial success of this weight loss program. She also suggested that money for achieving for weight loss goals be offered by insurance plans in real world. John said “Obesity is hugely costly to insurance companies, so they have financial incentives to look at this”. However, that doesn’t imply that incentives are the only means to help people achieve their short- and medium-term weight loss goals.