I believe that almost all things are better when you are getting paid to do them. Imagine a world wherein we are all on payroll for everyday things. Money to run errands! Jewelry for doing the dishes! Cash for our jobs — well, more cash, I guess, but you get the point. But what about when you lose weight for money?
Apparently, it’s even more beneficial than the money itself: researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that monetary incentives boost weight loss. In their experiment, participants included “employees of the Mayo Clinic or their dependents belonging to the age group of 18-63, with a BMI of 30-39.9 kg/m2.” They were divided into four groups, two of did not receive financial benefits from while the other two did. The groups were followed for a year to figure out which did the best when it came to weight loss.
All participants were given a weight loss goal of 4 pounds per month until they hit their goal weight. Each month, researchers logged their body weight, keeping track of the participants’ progress. The groups chosen to receive financial incentives were told that if they achieved their goals, they would receive $20 each month; failing to do so, on the other hand, would require them to pay $20 to put into a “bonus pool” which would go to a participant in one of the incentive groups by way of lottery. The results:
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.
Those from the incentive group who paid penalties continued their participation as compared to the non-incentive group.
“The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives. The financial incentives can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence,” said lead author Steven Driver, M.D., internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic.
While I think that it makes a ton of sense that people who lose weight for money might lose more than those whose only incentive is the weight loss itself, I also think that penalizing people for not losing weight could have paid a larger role than it may be credited for. For example, if I was told that if I show up to a restaurant, I’ll get paid to eat there, I would probably go because that sounds fantastic. If I woke up sick, though, and didn’t feel like going, I would likely not bother because I’m not actively losing anything from declining the offer and not putting in the effort to go. However, if I were told that not going would result in having to pay the restaurant for the meal anyway, I would likely go regardless of whether or not I felt well enough to do so.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting story because so much skepticism and questions surround paid weight loss studies and product trials. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that getting healthy should primarily be for yourself, not for cash or any other incentive.