Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 7, 2013

Cash, not calories key in losing weight

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — The diet study involved 100 obese employees at Mayo Clinic but was not a workplace wellness program. Half were given weight-loss counseling, monthly weigh-ins and a three-month gym membership. The others had those things plus financial incentives.

The aim was to lose 4 pounds a month up to a goal that depended on their starting weight. If they failed, they paid $20 into a kitty. If they succeeded, they got a voucher to collect $20 when the study ended. Part of the kitty was used to pay the rewards. The rest was put into a lottery that anyone could win, whether they had made their weight-loss goals or not.

"People saw that if they stuck with it, they had a chance at winning more than they had lost," Driver said.

Participants in the financial incentives group also earned $10 a month and lottery "tickets" for coming to monthly weigh-ins and texting their weights to study leaders each week, said Dr. Don Hensrud, preventive medicine chief at Mayo. So people could have lost as much as $240 or won as much as $360, plus what built up in the lottery fund.

After a year, 27 of the 50 financial incentive participants came out ahead moneywise. About 62 percent of them completed the study versus 26 percent of the other group. The incentives group lost a little more than 9 pounds on average, compared to 2.3 pounds for the others.

The results are promising, but people may need to lose more than 9 pounds to make a big difference in health, said Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics.

"There's been an explosion of interest in this" and 86 percent of large employers now provide incentive programs like this, he said.

The cash was a big motivator for one study participant — Audrey Traun, 29, a lab training specialist who dropped 40 pounds, from 215 pounds to 175.

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