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September 12, 2007
Financial Incentives Help Employees Lose More Weight

Employees who receive financial incentives for losing weight shed more pounds than those who receive none, according to a study by researchers at RTI International and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The study, which included more than 200 participants, examined the impact of monetary rewards on weight loss in the absence of a structured weight-loss program.

For the study, the researchers randomly put participants into three groups. One group received $7 per percentage point of weight loss, the second group received $14 per percentage point of weight loss, and the third group receive no financial incentive for losing weight.

The researchers found that the larger financial incentive resulted in the greatest short-term weight loss. At 3 months, participants with no financial incentive lost 2 pounds, those in the $7 group lost about 3 pounds, and those in the $14 group lost nearly 5 pounds. The participants in the $14 group were five and a half times more likely than those in the no-incentive group to lose 5 percent of their body weight, a point where weight loss has clinically important health benefits, the researchers said.

"Financial incentives tied directly to weight loss are an attractive strategy from an employer's perspective because they require no start-up costs and employees receive the incentive only if they achieve the targeted weight loss goal," says  Eric Finkelstein , director of RTI's Public Health Economics Program and the study's lead author. "Employees may also prefer incentive-based programs that provide the resources and flexibility to improve their health without being tied to the small menu of options that may be offered by the employer."

The study is published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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