With obesity levels reaching epidemic proportions global experts in the field are focused on one goal - reversing the trend.
Key to the battle is encouraging people who are overweight or obese to exercise more.
For some, all the motivation that is needed is the promise of living a healthier lifestyle.
But for others, unless there is a tangible incentive in sight, they’d much rather skip the gym.
However, a new study has suggested a new way to help overweight and obese people shift the pounds - fine them if they don't exercise.
Continue reading after the cut....
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine discovered people are more likely to get active if they risk losing money by skipping a workout.
Senior study author Dr Kevin Volpp, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said: ‘Our findings demonstrate that the potential of losing a reward is a more powerful motivator.’
The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, tested the efficacy of three methods of financial incentives to boost physical activity among overweight and obese adults.
Lead study author Dr Mitesh Patel said: ‘Although most people know that exercise is good for their health, more than 50 per cent of adults in the United States don’t get enough of it.’
There are currently countless workplace wellness programs in place geared towards increasing physical activity.
However, scientists found that there is a lack of understanding about how to design incentives within those programs.
Dr Patel said: ‘Our findings suggest that these programs could result in better outcomes if they designed financial incentives based on principles from behavioral economics such as loss aversion.’
The study included 281 participants who were given the goal of reaching 7,000 steps per day for 26 weeks.
The average daily step count among US adults is 5,000 – so the 7,000 figure reflects a 40 per cent increase.
During the first 13 weeks, the participants were assigned to four groups.
One control group had no financial incentive, while the gain group received $1.40 for every day the goal was achieved – or $42 per month.
There was also a lottery group – where people were entered into a daily lottery with a prize that averaged $1.40 each day.
Lastly, there was also a loss incentive group, where the participants start with $42 each month, and the scientists took away $1.40 for each day the goal wasn’t achieved.
For the final 13 weeks of the study, participants received feedback on their performance – but weren’t offered any financial incentives.
The team set out to determine which program design was the most effective at motivating participants to increase their physical activity.
Participants’ progress was tracked through a mobile app on their smartphones.
Results from the first half of the study showed that offering a daily reward or lottery was no more effective than offering no reward at all.
Participants in those groups only achieved the goal approximately 30 to 35 per cent of the time.
But, those who risked losing the reward they’d already been given achieved the goal nearly 45 per cent of the time.
That amounts to an almost 50 per cent increase over the control group.
Thus, the scientists determined that the way financial incentives are framed is important.
Dr Volpp said: ‘Most workplace wellness programs typically offer the reward after the goal is achieved.’
Additionally, because 96 per cent of the participants were still enrolled in the study even after the incentives stopped three months in, the scientists also found that smartphones should be used to deploy such programs on a broader scale.
Co-author Dr David Asch said: ‘Our findings reveal how wearable devices and apps can play a role in motivating people to increase physical activity, but what really makes the difference is how you design the incentive strategy around those apps.’
Future research should compare the effectiveness of such incentives when combined with other motivators, such as peer support and accountability, the authors noted.
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