Money may not buy you love, but it can help you lose weight. In a study announced in a March 7 news release, the Mayo Clinic reported that a chance to win or lose $20 a month motivated dieters to shed an average of 9.1 pounds.
The study, which followed 100 Mayo Clinic employees who volunteered for the trial, is the longest test of financial incentives for weight loss. Researchers suggest it worked because it had a mix of rewards for losing weight and penalties for participants who did not. The study also included ways to recoup lost money if participants “slipped” and then returned to their diets.
Study participants were divided into four weight-loss groups: two with financial incentives and two without. All participants were given a goal of losing four pounds per month up to a predetermined goal that depended on their weight when they began the program.
Participants in the incentive groups who met their goals received $20 per month. They also received an additional $10 for attending monthly weigh-ins. Those who failed to meet their goals put $20 each month into a bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who completed the study were eligible to win the pool by lottery.
“People saw that if they stuck with it, they had a chance of winning more than they had lost,” a study leader, Steve Driver, MD, and resident physician in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn., told Associated Press.
Following a year of dieting, 27 of 50 financial incentive participants earned more money than they put in. A total of 15 participants received the $360 maximum. Nearly 62 percent completed the study compared to 26 percent of the other group. The incentive group lost an average of 9.1 pounds, while the non-incentive group averaged a 2.3-pound loss.
Study co-author Donald Hensrud, MD, chairman of preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic, told Businessweek that additional research is needed to determine how financial incentives work best and how long the programs need to be in place to help people maintain their weight loss.
One weight-loss expert agrees.
“I don’t find it surprising that even a small financial incentive helps spur some weight loss,” Scott Kahan, MD, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, in Washington, D.C., told HealthDay News.
“The challenge is how to help people lose weight in a way that is sustainable. We need to be thinking about a comprehensive approach that addresses much more than increasing initial motivation. We need to maintain this motivation over time,” added Kahan.