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Would You Diet for Dollar Bills?


There are many reasons you may be motivated to lose weight. Perhaps you want to look better in your swimsuit, regain confidence, have more energy or become your healthiest by warding off obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and others.

But could throwing a cash prize into the mix of motivators be that extra push you need to encourage you to finally peel off the pounds?

Maybe. A hot new trend is emerging: using money or other types of financial rewards to motivate people to lose weight. And it just might be working.

The Study

According to a recent study performed by the Mayo Clinic, study subjects who got financial incentives were found to be much more likely to adhere to a weight-loss program and actually dropped more weight than subjects who got no financial incentives.

In the study, one hundred participants were split into four groups. Two groups were given financial incentives and two groups were not. All study subjects had the goal of dropping four pounds a month and had an established goal weight before beginning the study. The subjects had their weight recorded every month for a year. Those in the groups with financial lures got twenty dollars a month if they met their weight-loss goals but had to pay twenty dollars a month if they didn't lose the weight. The money paid for failing to meet their target weight went into a "bonus pool," which the study participants could win by lottery at the end of the study.

In the groups that had monetary incentives (they were rewarded and given money if they met their weight-loss goals or penalized and had to pay money if they failed to meet their goals), 62 percent actually achieved their target weight loss, while only 26 percent of the participants who had no financial incentives met their weight-loss goal. The average amount of weight lost was 9.08 pounds for those promised a cash prize versus just 2.34 pounds for the groups who had no financial incentives.

What Happens When Money is No Longer Rewarded?

Of course, this is not the first study to examine the link between providing financial incentives and the success rate of a weight-loss intervention. In many previous studies, the participants no longer continued to lose weight after the financial incentive was removed. In previous studies: no more money = no more weight loss.

However, this Mayo Clinic study was somewhat different. This was the first study that not only provided money for those who reached their weight-loss goals, but it also actually took money away from the participants if they failed to reach their weight-loss goals, essentially upping the ante. Obviously people love to receive money, but they also hate to lose money, especially when it's their fault. Additionally, the results of this study may hold more weight (pardon the pun) than previous studies because it included more participants (100 people) and was done for a longer amount of time (a full year rather than 12-36 weeks in previous studies).

Your brain is often driven by some type of reward system, and this motivates you to take action. So why does this motivating factor--cold hard cash--seem to be so successful when others fail? The study's lead author believes that long-term weight loss is possible when people are given financial enticements. The author also believes that monetary rewards will produce better results, including making people more compliant with a weight-loss program.

Would You Diet for Dollar Bills?

The study's authors note that because many traditional weight-loss interventions have failed for so many people, it may be time to start seeking out more creative methods to get people to lose weight and maintain that weight-loss long term. This type of motivation brings a whole new meaning to the popular phrase, "put your money where your mouth is." Or in successful cases, it's all about putting your money where your mouth isn'tcold and that's near food.

I would hope that the promise of improved health would be enough of an incentive to encourage people to lose excess weight, but if these more creative types of therapies actually work, it certainly doesn't hurt to try them. Because in the end, it's all about what works for you.


Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at [email protected].

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