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Now here's an idea: Lose weight and cash in, too

December 9, 2008 |  3:50 pm

Financial1 If wiggling into a pair of skinny jeans isn't incentive enough, some people may be motivated to lose weight another way: for money.

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. calls for "new strategies . . . to help reduce the rate of obesity in the U.S. population" including being paid to do so. The researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the Wharton School, and the VA Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, designed and tested two incentive-based approaches to losing weight. One was a lottery-based group in which participants played a lottery and received the earnings if they achieved or lost more than the target weight. The other plan was a deposit contract condition in which participants invested their own money, which they lost if they failed to achieve weight goals. The 57 participants were assigned to one of the incentive plans or simply a monthly weigh-in. They were given a goal of 16 pounds of weight loss over 16 weeks.

The deposit contract group lost an average of 14 pounds, the lottery group 13.1 pounds and the control group 3.9 pounds. (About half of the people in both incentive groups met the 16-pound target weight loss.) The incentive groups also experienced a decent ka-ching: An average of $378.49 was earned by the deposit contract group and an average of $272.80 by the lottery group.

One problem was that the people in both incentive groups gained some weight between the end of the incentive program at four months and the end of the seven-month study. They still weighed less than they did at the start, however.

Long-term research is needed to see if the pay-me-first approach to weight loss helps or whether such a program is practical and cost-effective, the researchers noted. Another question: Is the worst recession in decades the best, or worst, time to try this?

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: David Gothard / For The Times