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Money talks when it comes to losing weight
March 11th, 2013
01:10 PM ET

Money talks when it comes to losing weight

How'd you like to get paid to lose weight? Financial incentives can help improve your odds of dropping pounds, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic followed 100 Mayo employees over the course of a year as they took educational classes on how to eat healthy and lose weight.

The employees were broken up into several groups - some of which got financial incentives to shed the pounds and others that just got the classes.

"We found that people who receive financial incentives tended to stick with the healthy behaviors we all wish we would do more often," said lead study author Dr. Stephen Driver, an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic.

"At 52 weeks, those in the financial arm of the study had lost an average of about 9 pounds," he said, "as compared to those who didn't receive financial incentives, who lost about 2 pounds."

Each participant received $20 for every pound they lost, but they also had to pay $20 for every pound they gained. Driver says the move wasn't just punitive; it was both an added incentive to lose weight and a way to fund the program.

"About 86% of large employers are already offering some kind of financial incentives to help employees reach their health goals," Driver said. "But one problem employers run into with financial incentives is that they can be expensive. Part of our model was to allow the so-called 'losers' to fund the 'winners,' and I think that can help things to be more sustainable."

This study is not the first to show the link between financial incentives and improved weight loss, but with one year of follow up, it is the longest.

Driver did point out one limitation of this particularly study design:

"Because it was research, everybody knew which group they were in," he said. "There may have been a higher proportion of dropouts in the non-incentive group."

Why? Because they knew there was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which may prove the point of the study even more.

"I think the message is financial incentives can be an important part of the puzzle, and an important tool to help keep you motivated."

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