“You can never be too rich or too thin” is an old saying, often attributed to the Duchess of Windsor. Of course, it comes off as snooty – if she had coined it today, imagine her Twitter ratios. Here’s the thing, though: Body weight and net worth truly are intertwined, and research shows that the more kilograms people carry, the less money they tend to have.
This works on different levels. Say you’re an obese 20-year-old who drops to a healthy weight. According to a 2017 study from Johns Hopkins University, your estimated lifetime savings in healthcare and productivity would be R353 331. For a 50-year-old, you’re looking at R457 464.
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Jay Zagorsky, PhD, an economist and researcher at Ohio State University, has been examining the weight-wealth connection for more than a decade. His 2015 study, published in the Oxford Handbook of Economics and Human Biology, reveals this price tag:
- For every kilogram of extra weight gained, R6 283 of wealth is lost.
- For every point of body mass index gained, R23 959 of wealth is lost.
So by Zagorsky’s calculation, if you’re 20kg overweight, you’re cheating yourself out of more than R125 000.
Another factor that impacts your income: Weight discrimination. Past research has shown that employers find heavier employees less desirable as co-workers and bosses. It works both ways: A German study of nearly 18 000 workers found that underweight men earn about 8% less than those at the upper end of the “healthy BMI” bracket. The effect was especially strong in blue-collar jobs.
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Of course, no-one’s waiting to write you a cheque when you hit your goal weight. (Or are they? See “Hit the Fat-Loss Jackpot!” below.) But if you want to drop kilos and keep them off, bringing money into the equation looks like a smart play. Research shows that money can motivate people towards healthier behaviour.
The amount at stake doesn’t even have to be sizable or guaranteed. A study in the journal Obesity found that participants in a weight-loss programme who were promised varying financial incentives (R10 to R125 per week) for logging their progress on the programme’s website dropped 49% more weight than those who weren’t offered cash.
Looking at obesity through lenses like these can be a powerful new way to change your thinking and finally get yourself the body you want, some researchers contend. “Sometimes people need a different and interesting way to think through a problem,” says economist Christopher Payne, PhD, co-author of The Economists’ Diet: The Surprising Formula for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off. He and his colleague Rob Barnett lost a combined 54kg using basic monetary principles.
So whether you want to lose five, 10 or 20-plus kilograms, applying some behavioural economics could help you cash in. Payne and Barnett are living proof that the strategy works. Here’s how to do it.
Ignore supply, cut demand
“Economics was helpful for us because it provides the best explanation for being overweight,” explains Payne. “There is a glut of kilojoule-heavy food sold at cheap prices. Supply creates its own demand, which means many of us overeat.”
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A prime example are buy-aid schemes such as Cape Consumers (now Bsmart). A recent Dartmouth study found that members shop more often and buy at least 12 500 more kilojoules a month than traditional supermarket shoppers do. In the face of overwhelming supply, we increase our demand. To break this cycle, realise that scarcity and plenty are perception, not reality, says Barnett.
“We discovered that we really didn’t need all the food we perceived as necessary. Three square meals a day – what most people consider normal – was way too much. Once we realised that our perceptions were wrong, eating smaller meals every day was easier.”
Invest for the long term
It may seem like a good idea to opt for bigger “value” meals and cheap, kilojoule-heavy food; that way, you feel like you’re maximising your kilojoule intake per rand spent, and quite possibly saving money too. But long term, it’ll cost you more.
Obesity and persistent excess weight is a leading cause of cancer, heart disease and diabetes; treatments for these and other obesity-related diseases will ultimately be very expensive. Resist the upselling and cheap deals; it’s false economy.
View weight like debt
Imagine if your doctor emailed you a statement every month, just like your credit card company does. It would show everything you bought (kilojoules in) and what you owe in order to zero out your energy balance. You could make a minimum payment, but that would leave the remaining kilojoules to compound, and we’ve all been down that sorry road.
So after your next weekend of indulgence or annual holiday, gauge the damage and immediately resume exercising and eating healthily to pay off your debt. Make that your goal every month. Think of it as balancing your belly.
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Check the market daily
Economists are all about data. That’s why Payne and Barnett weigh themselves every morning. “We discovered that our bodies are incredibly reactive to what we eat each day,” says Payne. “We can see one day’s eating behaviour on the scale the following morning. Without being able to calibrate our eating behaviour against our weight, we would never have understood how little we need to eat.”
Example: Barnett realised that eating pizza, more than any other food, affected his morning weigh-ins. Now, he monitors how frequently he eats pizza and maintains his weight loss. “We stuck to good eating behaviour because the number from the scale that morning was firmly implanted in our minds, front and centre,” says Payne. Get to know your weight-gain instigators (e.g. drinking beer, or Sunday dinner at mom’s), and then manage them.
Announce your earnings
Letting the world know your weight-loss goals may help you achieve them. One study found that using a social media platform to announce your progress may help you drop more kilos. It keeps the pressure on you to continue the programme, and all the virtual back-pats provide added incentive.
Pretend you’re losing money
For some, it may be better to turn the financial weight-loss equation around. Instead of focusing on how much your net worth will rise if you drop a few pants sizes, try focusing on the cash you’re losing, or will be losing, due to obesity-related problems. A 2016 study found that among overweight or obese adults, financial incentives for physical activity were most effective when framed as a monetary loss.
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Hit the fat-loss jackpot!
Friendly wagers are fair game and effective when it comes to weight loss. Of course, there’s an app for that! Here are two strategies to try.
DietBet: Go hi-tech with the DietBet app: Join a game (currently more than 600 000 players), put your money into a pot, and start losing weight. Winners split the pot. Choose from short four-week Kickstarter games or six-month Transformers. Go to dietbet. com, and get the free app at the Apple Store and Google Play.
Do-It-Yourself: Old-school never goes out of style. Challenge friends, family members, or co-workers. In a Mayo Clinic study, overweight adults on a year-long incentive programme that included a shot at winning a “bonus pool” lost more than triple the weight that people with no financial carrot lost.
This article was originally published on www.mh.co.za
Image credit: iStock