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Money Incentives can Promote Healthier Choices

Update Date: Mar 12, 2014 02:30 PM EDT

Due to the obesity epidemic, government agencies have tried many different tactics in order to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. In a new study that examined previous ones conducted on the use of financial incentives, the researchers found that offering people small amounts of money can be help encourage them to make healthy lifestyle changes.

"We were surprised how few studies we found which had looked at the impact financial incentives can have...It is about nudging people to healthier behaviors. There is a chance this could save the tax payer money in the long run," Senior lecturer in public health at Newcastle University and member of Fuse, Dr. Jean Adams, said.

For this study, the researchers from Newcastle University analyzed 16 previous research articles. Together, the studies totaled over 30,000 participants and encompassed topics such as smoking cessation, physical activity, vaccinations and medical screenings. They discovered that financial incentives as little as five dollars could increase a person's decision to alter their lifestyle by 50 percent in comparison to people who did not get any forms of intervention. The researchers did not find a huge difference between offering large incentives versus smaller one. Financial incentives also included vouchers for produce at the supermarket.

The team also found that financial penalties, which meant that participants had to pay if they did not follow the lifestyle changes, were also effective in getting people to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. The researchers noted that they could not conclude if the effects were long-term.

"This was an interesting finding and we were surprised at just how strong the effect was. People who took part in these reward or penalty schemes were much more likely to adopt healthy behaviors, and if they continued they would have more chance of remaining healthy for longer," Newcastle University Research Associate, Dr. Emma Giles, lead author of the study, said reported by Medical Xpress. "Many studies used vouchers for supermarkets or similar things rather than actual cash. This might be a more acceptable way of implementing this."

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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