It’s official – people will lose weight when money is the incentive. A new study involving 200 overweight employees at colleges in NC has shown that people lose more weight when promised a monetary reward for pounds lost. And not surprisingly, as the financial incentive goes up, more pounds are shed.
At Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we’ve written about the importance of employers and insurance companies providing incentives (financial, in the form of premium discounts) for adopting and maintaining healthy habits, including losing excess weight and keeping it off. This study confirms that incentive programs are effective – now to work out the details.
First, you can’t just reward the overweight employees who lose weight. All the employees who’ve been at a healthy weight for years – and work hard every day to keep themselves there – would be less than thrilled by such a proposal. So the incentives need to be available for everyone, whether an employee needs to lose 200 lbs, or has been at an ideal weight for 40 years. Overweight employees need to lose weight to get the payout, and people already at a healthy weight would need to maintain it.
Employers should offer options for their incentive programs. Gift cards, cash, discounts on payroll deducted health insurance premiums, extra contributions to an employee retirement program – people like to have choices.
Companies would have to set up a system that would keep them from paying the same employee to lose the same ten pounds over and over. Almost every overweight person has lost weight at one time or another – usually lots of times. But keeping the weight off is much more challenging. So an incentive program that just targets weight loss by itself would be counter-productive. Employees could be paid for losing weight, but then to contine to get incentives, they would have to maintain the new weight or continue to lose weight if they haven’t reached their healthy weight yet.
With the current nationwide focus on obesity and the massive costs it adds to the health care system, this is the perfect time for employers and insurance companies to start offering more incentives for a healthy lifestyle. Since we know that financial incentives work, it’s time to start rolling them out to larger groups and see if we can start reversing the ever-increasing trend towards obesity in the US.