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HealthDay News: Bribing Folks Can Help Them Meet Weight-Loss Goals, Study Finds

From HealthDay News: Money may not buy happiness, but it might give low-income obese people an extra incentive to lose weight, a new study suggests. The study, of people from urban neighborhoods, found that cash rewards encouraged participants to shed some extra pounds, versus a weight-loss program with no financial bonuses. And the effects were similar whether people were rewarded for reaching their weight-loss goals, or simply for making healthy lifestyle changes. Over six months, 39% to 49% of people given cash incentives lost at least 5% of their starting weight. That compared with 22% of study participants given no monetary motivation. The caveat, experts said, is that no one knows how financial rewards pan out in the long run. In this study, the weight-loss differences among the groups had begun to narrow by the one-year point. “This would only be impactful if people could keep losing weight at this rate over the longer term,” said Karen Glanz, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics in Philadelphia. Glanz, who was not involved in the study, said that researchers still have much to learn about the role for financial incentives in weight loss — including how and when it’s best to use them. The concept itself is not new. Studies have suggested that offering people money in exchange for lost pounds can bear fruit — at least in the short term. Those findings have inspired web-based programs, like DietBet and HealthyWage, which use the prospect of financial rewards to encourage people to shed weight. The reasoning behind the approach stems from the simple fact that weight loss is hard. Obesity is a medical condition, not just a matter of willpower, said senior researcher Dr. Melanie Jay, an associate professor at NYU Langone Health in New York City. To lose weight and keep it off, Jay said, people have to battle biology — as the body tries to hang onto fat, not lose it. They are also fighting their daily environment, full of high-calorie processed foods and often little chance for physical activity. For low-income people — who cannot readily join a gym or afford healthy foods — the obstacles are particularly daunting, Jay said. Financial incentives are seen as a potential way to give people immediate rewards for the hard work of trying to lose weight. But like Glanz, Jay said there are many unknowns. “What makes financial incentives work,” she asked, “and what are the best ways to use them?” For their study, Jay’s team tested two kinds of incentives: One rewarded people for outcomes — losing at least 5% of their starting weight, which, on average, meant about 10 pounds. The other rewarded people’s efforts, like getting regular exercise. Read more at HealthDay News.