Willpower bends with diet bribes
A year-long study in the US shows the chance to win or lose $20 a month enticed dieters to drop an average of 4kg – four times more weight than others who were not offered dough to pass up the doughnuts.
Many employers, insurers and internet programs dangle dollars to try to change bad habits such as smoking or not exercising, but most studies have found this does not work very well or for very long.
The new study, done with Mayo Clinic employees in Rochester, Minnesota, is the longest test yet of financial incentives for weight loss.
Doctors think it succeeded because it has a mix of carrots and sticks – penalties for not losing weight, multiple ways to earn cash for succeeding and a chance to recoup lost money if you fell off the “diet wagon” and later repent.
Incentives are “not like training wheels where people learn healthy habits and then will continue them on their own” – you have to keep them up for them to work, says one study leader, Dr Steve Driver.
Mayo paid for the study and Dr Driver owns stock in Gympact, a company with an internet program that gives financial incentives for exercising.
The diet study involved 100 obese employees at Mayo Clinic but was not a workplace wellness programme.
Half were given weight-loss counseling, monthly weigh-ins and a three-month gym membership. The others had all that plus financial incentives.