Employees offered financial incentives to lose weight may
drop more pounds when they're competing as part of a group of colleagues, a new
Researchers compared two incentive scenarios. Under one,
employees got $100(R 917.95) for each month they met the goal of dropping at
least one pound per week. Under the second scenario, $500(R 4589.75) was set
aside each month for a group of five co-workers and the ones who met their goal
got to split the prize.
People more motivated to achieve goals
"People may be more motivated to achieve a particular
goal when a particular resource that had been allocated for them is given to
someone else if they don't achieve their goal," said Dr Jeffrey Kullgren,
the study's lead author from the University of Michigan Medical School and the
Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System.
He and his colleagues randomly assigned 105 obese hospital
employees to be offered the individual incentive, the group-based incentive
(without knowing who else was in their group) or not to receive any reward for losing
Participants weighed-in each month for about five months. By
the end of the study, people in the no-reward group had lost an average of just
over one pound each. Those who were offered individual incentives had shed 1.67kg,
on average, compared to 4.8kg among those with group-based incentives.
The possibility of earning more than $100 (R 917.95) if
their group members didn't lose weight, in addition to the element of
competition, may have driven those employees to make the most significant changes,
Kullgren's team reported Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
What works best?
Although weight-loss incentives are becoming popular with
many employers, researchers said there are still questions about what type of
program provides the most bang for the buck."There are hundreds of
different ways you can think about doing it.
I don't think there's a consensus about what the best way
is," said Robert Jeffery, who has studied financial incentives at the
University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Past research does provide a few clues,
however, he told Reuters Health.
Rewarding people more
frequently - such as every week - seems to encourage more weight loss, as does
offering more money for success, not surprisingly. Behavioural economics
suggests that aversion to losing - whether money or just a competition with
other members of the group - can be a good motivator.
How the study was done
For instance, one recent study found loss aversion played a
role in who lost weight when dieters had to deposit a few dollars into an
account weekly, and the cash was matched if they lost weight or forfeited if
they didn't .Still, even effective programs can lose their "oomph"
over time, according to Jeffery, who wasn't involved in the new research.
And most studies don't account for the odds that people who
would be trying to lose weight anyway are the most likely to join a financial
incentives program - and certain other heavy employees might be harder to
reach, he said.
There are still many strategies to explore, Jeffery added -
such as paying people more, the longer they keep the extra weight off. Some
employers have also tried "Biggest Loser"-style games, but those may
discourage certain people because only the few who lose the most weight get rewarded,
researchers pointed out."
This is yet another approach that we need to have in our
tool kits for addressing this really major and vexing public health
problem," Kullgren told Reuters Health, adding that an incentive program
could be combined with diet and exercise counseling, for example. The question
is, "How can these types of approaches complement what we already know
works?" he said.