Are People More Likely To Lose Weight When Offered Cash Incentives?

Nearly half of American adults tried to lose weight during a 12-month period, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those who succeed, however, research suggests that most will struggle to keep the weight off. In fact, one 2018 research article published in Medical Clinics of North America found that people gain back around 80% of the weight they lost within five years.

Even though fad diets and weight loss plans promise to shed pounds, usually in a short amount of time, losing weight is often easier said than done. Still, reaching and maintaining a moderate weight is an important part of overall health. For example, losing excess weight lowers the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, respiratory issues, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions, as per the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Yet, close to 74% of Americans over the age of 20 were found to be overweight in a survey done between 2017 and 2018, according to the CDC.

In other words, the struggle to lose weight affects a number of people. And it might be solved, at least partially, with financial incentives.

Cash could help some people lose weight

Losing weight, and keeping the weight off is a challenge for many, which is why some may struggle to stay engaged with weight loss plans. Luckily, there's research that investigated which factors keep people on track with weight loss goals, including one study that focused on offering cash incentives.

The 2022 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, involved directing low-income patients with obesity to lose weight using different conditions. Participants in the outcome-based group got offered up to $750 for hitting specific weight loss targets. The resources-only group, however, was solely given healthy habits to lose weight. And the goal-directed group was given both cash incentives and healthy weight loss habits.

All patients were given resources, such as access to a weight loss program membership. Overall, the results suggest that people may need more practical motives to lose weight, rather than only having access to helpful tools.

Outside of the study, it's likely that there would be barriers to offering money for weight loss on a large scale. However, there may still be real-world implications for the research findings. In fact, Colleen Tewksbury, an assistant professor of nutrition science and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told NBC News, "It may be a great opportunity for employers, health insurers, government agencies like Medicare and Medicaid. Anyone currently spending money on health care costs could benefit by leveraging this strategy to lower health care costs."