Losing Weight for Financial Reward

by Christine on May 28th, 2010

filed under Diet, Food, Nutrition, Exercise, General Information

Getting Paid to Lose WeightRecently I have been reading a lot of blogs that spoken about The Biggest Loser, slamming the show for contestants that are motivated to lose weight because of the financial gain.  The general thought is that financial motivation isn’t a “good enough” reason to lose weight; “real,” sustained weight loss can only come when you want to make a positive change for loftier ideals, such as for your health, your family, etc.  Curiously, many of these same blogs offer their own financial incentives for their weight-loss blog readers, such as food giveaways, weight-loss gadget giveaways, gift certificates, etc.  (Okay seriously, how do all these bloggers find so many endorsements to give away?) I could directly cite which blogs these are, but I don’t want them to think that I’m bashing them; on the contrary! I find the topic pretty interesting and stimulating.

How bad can it be to have financial motivation to lose weight? According to the HuffingtonPost (I know, I know), “Financial incentives have been well studied in weight loss, and are proven to improve outcomes over standard interventions alone.  Faced with backbreaking healthcare costs, corporations are promising cold, hard cash as part of comprehensive wellness plans aimed at motivating employees to improve their health.”

The idea of your employer paying you extra to lose weight is gaining popularity as well. At my last job, the employees teamed together to create their own “Biggest Loser” challenge. Everyone put in $20, and at the end of three months the winner (greatest percentage of weight loss) got the money.  My current employer, which is a large research university, offers something like $25 if you complete a walking program sponsored by Human Resources.

Bigger companies around the country are offering even bigger incentives.  Highmark, a Pennsylvania Blue Cross/Blue Shield licensee, offers a fitness program that pays $225 per year to employees that agree to medical assessments and free health and nutrition coaching.  Freedom One Financial Group in Michigan offered a free four-day cruise to Jamaica for employees who met certain weight loss or body fat reduction goals. At the end of that company’s three-month challenge, over one-third of its employees won the free cruise.  OhioHealth, a hospital chain, offers employees up to $500 per year just to wear a pedometer.

Why are these companies offering such big prizes?  Primarily because of the toll that obesity-related health problems takes on productivity and health-care costs.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity cost American companies $56 million in the year 2000 alone. To put the emphasis on the health-care costs, Affinia Group offered a $1,000 reduction in health insurance premiums to employees who participate in the company’s health-management program. Over 99% of their employees participate in the program.

So do these financial motivators really work? Do people lose weight and keep the weight off when confronted with financial gain? There is some discrepancy about this. “It’s probably a waste of time,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The few studies that have been done on this subject have shown mixed results. A Cornell University study showed that the average weight loss in employer programs was little more than one pound.  For many of the companies listed above, while their incentive programs reaped early rewards, the weight started creeping on the employees about seven months later. “That is about the same success seen with almost any fad diet,” said Dr. David Kats with Yale University. “If we are going to achieve lasting change in health behavior, we need to help people to internalize the sense of responsibility to self and self-care and to value their own well-being,” said Martin Banks with Duke Diet and Fitness Center.  This is exactly the sentiment echoed by many readers of diet/fitness blogs that I have been reading recently.

On the other hand, a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that dieters who had a financial incentive to lose weight were nearly five times as likely to meet their goal as compared with dieters with no financial reward.

Some researchers say that companies need to make the reward and penalty program more dramatic: make the financial incentive to lose weight even larger, and impose financial penalties on employees that do not participate in wellness program, such as an increase in health insurance premiums. The research shows that individuals are more motivated by the idea of losing their own money than by gaining extra money.  To prove the point, a 2008 University of Pennsylvania study found that after 16 weeks, people who put their own money on the line lost about a pound more on average than people who earned extra cash.

A hilarious rendering of the G.W. Bush Presidential Library. Click for larger image!

A website called stickK.com, founded by Yale economics professor Dean Karlan, allows members to sign a commitment contract and publicly announce a weight-loss goal. Users are not required to wager any money on their weight-loss bet, but about 30% do want to do this, inputting their credit card information and specifying how much money should be automatically charge if they fail to reach their goal. These users can designate a recipient: a person or charity or “anti-charity.”  One of the most popular “anti-charities” to donate to is the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Since the website started, more than $3 million has been put on the line by users. Combined user statistics show a 70% success rate of meeting their weight loss goals.

With the growing price tag of losing weight, having a financial reward to offset the cost of weight loss may be helpful to some frugal dieters. The extra cost associated with organic fruits and vegetables, gym memberships, Weight Watchers meetings, weight loss surgery, books and DVDs, can all add up for individuals.

Here’s something nearly everyone can agree on: Losing weight and keeping it off is priceless.

What is your price tag? How much would your company have to offer you to motivate you to keep moving? Would you participate in a weight-loss challenge that had a reward of some kind? Would that motivate you?

Want to lose weight and make money?

HealthyWage.com:  The Matchup $10,000 team weight-loss challenge. The team (of 5) that loses the greatest percentage of weight over three months wins!  Registration ends June 6, 2010.  (Pete Thomas and Neil Tejwani from TBL are participants.)  There is a $20 entrance fee.

Fitcapital will donate $50 towards the winner’s award for each weight-loss competition that you create on their website.  Sign up for an open weight-loss competition!   The competition must last at least one month and have a minimum of 10 participants.  Join open competitions here too!

{sig}

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Share
  • http://blogger.com Bonnie

    Hi, Christine – You commented on my last blog and I wanted to say thanks. That must have been extremely stressful getting your approval only a few days prior to surgery. I like this post and is definitely a good topic for debate on a lot of different levels. My thoughts are that financial rewards aren’t the issue with biggest loser – it’s just that most people can’t work out 6 hours a day so when the contestants go back home to the real world there is definitely an adjustment that needs to be made. And when the finale is over and all the cameras are gone, the most are faced with the same issues that they had prior to the show. However, I do think that most of the contestants, even if they gain back some weight, are not as big as when they were on the show and overall it was a lifesaver to a lot of contestants. Have a wonderful holiday.

  • http://blogger.com Bonnie

    Hi, Christine – You commented on my last blog and I wanted to say thanks. That must have been extremely stressful getting your approval only a few days prior to surgery. I like this post and is definitely a good topic for debate on a lot of different levels. My thoughts are that financial rewards aren’t the issue with biggest loser – it’s just that most people can’t work out 6 hours a day so when the contestants go back home to the real world there is definitely an adjustment that needs to be made. And when the finale is over and all the cameras are gone, the most are faced with the same issues that they had prior to the show. However, I do think that most of the contestants, even if they gain back some weight, are not as big as when they were on the show and overall it was a lifesaver to a lot of contestants. Have a wonderful holiday.

  • http://lookingforfeet.blogspot.com Mad Woman

    I think it’s such a fascinating topic. I think if someone was willing to pay me to lose the weight, I’d be working my ass off (literally) to reach that goal. I’m oddly more motivated by money than I am by the thought of me looking hot. Maybe one day that will change. I tried to get my dad to sponsor me $10 for every pound I lost and he almost went for it. But by the time I reach goal, he’d end up owing me $1700. That’s one heck of a wardrobe!

  • http://lookingforfeet.blogspot.com Mad Woman

    I think it’s such a fascinating topic. I think if someone was willing to pay me to lose the weight, I’d be working my ass off (literally) to reach that goal. I’m oddly more motivated by money than I am by the thought of me looking hot. Maybe one day that will change. I tried to get my dad to sponsor me $10 for every pound I lost and he almost went for it. But by the time I reach goal, he’d end up owing me $1700. That’s one heck of a wardrobe!

  • Katie

    I love the new signature on your posts!

    I absolutely would join any weight loss competition that offered me something in return. Whether or not I would stick to it is another story. I think the idea of paying money out of pocket for not achieving the weight loss goal is MUCH better. If I’m going to lose my hard earned money that I need to pay my bills, I’m going to think twice before skipping that gym day or grabbing that cheeseburger.

    You should set something like that up on here! When people fail, you could use the costs for your site! Oh yes.

    Wells Fargo pays for Weight Watchers and has fat discounts on almost any gym! Just in case anyone works for them and didn’t know that.

    I’m going to check out the HealthyWage challenge. Thanks, Christine!

  • Katie

    I love the new signature on your posts!

    I absolutely would join any weight loss competition that offered me something in return. Whether or not I would stick to it is another story. I think the idea of paying money out of pocket for not achieving the weight loss goal is MUCH better. If I’m going to lose my hard earned money that I need to pay my bills, I’m going to think twice before skipping that gym day or grabbing that cheeseburger.

    You should set something like that up on here! When people fail, you could use the costs for your site! Oh yes.

    Wells Fargo pays for Weight Watchers and has fat discounts on almost any gym! Just in case anyone works for them and didn’t know that.

    I’m going to check out the HealthyWage challenge. Thanks, Christine!