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Cash and Peer Competition Can Increase Incentives for Weight Loss

Update Date: Apr 02, 2013 12:28 PM EDT

A recent study reported that people are more likely to successfully lose weight when they are offered monetary rewards. Based from that finding and other studies, some companies have decided to provide cash incentives for their employees in helping to promote a healthier lifestyle. The Affordable Care Act, which begins in 2014, also helps companies fund large financial incentives in creating a healthier and more active work area by discouraging smoking and offering more physical activities. This push for healthier employees might have just gotten stronger as new research shows that weight loss might be even more effective with the added factor of competition between peers.

The research team, headed by the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System and the University of Michigan Health System, observed the effects of cash incentives in combination with the competition between peers on weight loss. The researchers looked at two different kinds of incentive-based weight loss strategies used on overweight employees at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PA. In the first group, each individual employee was offered $100 every month if they managed to reach or exceed their weight loss goals. The second group of employees was placed in groups of five and was offered $500, which would be split amongst the group members if they achieved their goals at the end of the month. This group approach allowed individuals to earn more than $100 if a group member does not accomplished his or her goal.

"We found that these incentives were substantially more powerful when delivered in groups, which has important implications for both policymakers and the employers who are considering offering them," said the lead author, Jeffrey T. Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H. "We anticipate more employers to offer these awards in an effort to control health care costs while also improving the health of employees."

The researchers performed this experiment for six months and they found that the group strategy resulted in more weight loss than the individual approach. This finding will help employers and other parties in promoting healthy behaviors and weight loss. Weight loss and healthier lifestyles would save money for both the companies and the employees. There would ideally be less medical bills and fewer absences in the office if employees were healthier. Several programs have not been effective in the past, and with obesity still too common within society, agencies and corporations are looking for more ways to curb weight gain and encourage weight loss.

The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  

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