Does financial motivation work for weight loss?

Michelle Edelbaum

Does financial motivation work for weight loss?

When John Roberts's Rockford, Illinois, workplace started a program that paid employees cash for losing weight, he joined with a goal. "I didn't want to be asked to be Santa Claus every year," says Roberts, 56, who lost 20 pounds in seven months by avoiding junk food and walking. He pocketed $100. "The financial reward felt good."

Although Roberts was already motivated to lose weight, the lure of extra pocket change may have helped him achieve his goal. Results of a study published last September in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, show that cash incentives can motivate weight loss. Participants who were randomly assigned to receive $14 per percentage point of weight lost were 5.4 times more likely to lose weight than participants who received no incentive to lose.

Cash motivates weight loss for the same reason a salary brings employees to work. "People do things for money, including diet and exercise," says Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., a researcher at RTI International in North Carolina and co-author of the study.

Bribing yourself may have limited success, since you already earned the money. "But it can work if you create a system where it's binding, where failure becomes more expensive," says Finkelstein. Try making a bet. The wager doesn't have to include money, just something you don't want to lose, such as a favorite shirt-or your pride at the company's holiday party.

-Michelle Edelbaum