Getting Paid to Lose Weight? Mayo Clinic Says It Works

Even small financial incentives help people lose it, new study says

What if you got paid to lose weight?

No, we’re not talking about The Biggest Loser, but a small cash reward for hitting a monthly weight-loss target, and a penalty for falling short. Think you might be more inclined to stick with the program?

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic think so.

In a study presented last month at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, Mayo Clinic doctors tested a system of financial weight-loss incentives on obese Clinic employees and family members over a period of a year, and found that even a relatively small monthly income bump—or hit—made a big difference.

The subjects were divided into two groups of 50 people: those with monthly incentives, and those without. From the study’s abstract:

Participants were weighed monthly for a year. All were given a weight loss goal of four pounds per month (adjusted based on their previous month's weight). Incentive participants meeting their goals received modest payments of $20 per month while those who failed to meet their goals paid a penalty fee of $20 into a larger bonus pool which was later awarded via lottery among participants who completed the study.

The distant chance of winning a large cash pot wasn’t enough to encourage the non-incentivized participants to hang on till the end. Only 26 percent of that group lasted the full 12 months, losing an average of 2.34 pounds over the course of a year.

But the incentivized group told a different story. Only one Jackson a month helped 62 percent of them finish, and they lost an average of 9.08 pounds during the study. Even those who paid penalties were more likely to see the study through, said lead author Steven Driver in a press release.

The idea of paying someone to lose weight isn’t as crazy as it sounds. According to the study’s authors, workplaces and insurers are already experimenting with incentive schemes, and it’s no wonder. It’s much cheaper for an insurance company to pay nominal rewards for going to the gym than for expensive obesity-related conditions like diabetes and heart disease down the line.

“Traditional therapies are not working for a lot of people, so people are looking for creative ways to help people lose weight and keep it off,” co-author Donald Hensrud said. “The results of this study show the potential of financial incentives.”

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