How Can I Motivate Myself to Lose Weight? Set Financial Incentives, Study Suggests

There are many roadblocks to losing weight, and one of the most common is sustaining the motivation needed to continue a weight loss program. Once the initial excitement surrounding a new weight loss plan has died away, we are left in search of something to keep us going. A preliminary study, reported in JAMA's December 10 issue, may have an answer: it appears that financial incentives can aid short-term weight loss.

The study authors, Kevin G. Volpp, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School, VA Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia, and colleagues, note that obesity has become a severe problem in the United States. Data collected through the CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) shows that over 63 percent of American adults were classified as overweight or obese in 2008; ten years earlier, in 1998, the same classification accounted for less than 55 percent of American adults. The number of overweight and obese Americans is large, and it continues to grow. Obesity is such a significant problem in the United States that it is currently one of the most common preventable causes of early death, second only to smoking.

Looking for an explanation for this increase in obesity, the study authors turned to the concepts of behavioral economics, which attempt to explain self-destructive behaviors such as unhealthy eating. One pattern for self-destructive behavior identified by behavioral economists is a focus on immediate gratification rather than more long-term benefits. The study authors suggest this may be a reason for the increase in obesity levels in the United States. For some people, the pleasure of eating simply outweighs the positive but delayed benefit they would experience with a more controlled diet - better health and a longer life.

Money As An Incentive To Lose Weight - The Study

With the ideas of behavioral economics in mind, a study was designed to compare three groups of participants, all taking part in a weight-monitoring program that included a weigh-in each month, and all with the goal of losing 16 pounds over the course of 16 weeks. The fifty-seven participants were each randomly assigned to one of the three groups. The control group participated only in the weight-monitoring program, while the other two groups took part in financial incentive programs. For one group, the incentive was based on a lottery system; participants assigned to that group earned money based on whether they lost more than the lottery's target weight. The second group took part in what was termed a deposit contract condition; participants in this group invested their own money, and lost their invested money if they didn't meet set goals for weight loss.

The Results Of The Study Were Striking

The authors found that financial incentives were indeed extremely effective in aiding weight loss. The average weight loss by participants playing the lottery, where they earned an average of $272.80, was 13.1 pounds. The deposit contract participants, with average earnings of $378.49, lost an average of 14 pounds. Weight loss in the incentive groups was significantly greater than the average loss of 3.9 pounds in the control group, where no money was earned. Moreover, approximately half of the participants assigned to the incentive groups met their weight loss goal of 16 pounds over 16 weeks; only 10.5 percent of the control group lost at least 16 pounds.

Although it appears that financial incentives may be a valuable new approach to weight-loss, it is important to note that the success seen in the financial incentive groups can so far only be applied to initial weight loss. When weighed again 7 months after completion of the 16 week program, all participants in the incentive groups had regained some, although not all, of the weight they had lost.

The study authors conclude that financial incentives are effective in short-term weight loss, but more research is required to determine whether similar incentives are effective in sustaining weight loss over the long term. In the meantime, this study provides support for a new short-term weight loss strategy that may be just what some people need to shed unwanted pounds.

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As an additional incentive to help you achieve success, two of the most successful former contestants from NBC's "The Biggest Loser", Pete Thomas (season 2) and Neil Tejwani (season 4), are providing coaching and motivation for the participants.

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