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Money Helps with Weight Loss: Study

Mar 08, 2013 07:45 AM EST

According to researchers from Mayo Clinic, cash rewards can help people stick to a weight loss plan.

Obesity can increase the risk of several health complications like diabetes type-2, heart diseases and stroke and some types of cancers. With a third of all Americans now obese, health experts are looking at new, creative ways to help people lose weight. Now a new study says that offering financial incentives to people to lose weight can be an effective strategy for controlling weight. The idea of offering cash rewards for weight loss has been around for some time. However, the new study shows that the weight loss is maintained over a longer duration.

Previous study published in the journal JAMA had supported the idea that financial incentives can help people adhere to a weight loss program. However, whether cash benefits for weight loss would help people keep the weight loss for long wasn't verified. Another study had shown that although financial incentives helped people lose weight over an 8-month period, the weight was regained after the program was over.

The present study was based on 100 people who were part of the study for a year, said Steven Driver, M.D., from Mayo Clinic and the lead author of the study. Study participants were randomly assigned one of four weight loss programs, of which 2 were based on financial incentives. The participants in the study were aged between 18-63 years and had a body mass index of 30 to 39.9 kg/m2.

BMI, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a good indicator to assess a person's health. It is calculated according to a person's weight and height. A BMI of more than 30 is considered obese.

Participants in all the four weight loss programs had to lose four pounds a month till they reached their ideal weight. People who were in the financial incentive groups got $20 per month if they reached their goals. When people in these groups failed, their $20 was put in a "bonus pool" that could be won by any person in the incentive programs by lottery.

Participants in the incentive groups not only stayed with the study (for a year) 62 percent versus 26 percent of non-incentive group, they were also more likely to report more weight loss (9.08 pounds, compared with 2.34 pounds for the non-incentive groups).

"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives. The financial incentives can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence," said Dr. Driver in a news release from Mayo Clinic.

Researchers found that even participants who had to pay penalties were more likely to stick with weight loss programs than other people.

"Traditional therapies are not working for a lot of people, so people are looking for creative ways to help people lose weight and keep it off. The results of this study show the potential of financial incentives," said Donald Hensrud, preventive medicine expert at Mayo Clinic, senior author of the study.

The study will be presented March 9 at the American College of Cardiology's 62nd Annual Scientific Session.

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