By Kate Wolin | Chief Science Officer | Interactive Health

The Study

A number of tactics can drive initial weight loss, but maintenance of that loss has proven to be far more challenging for people. Further, studies have shown that financial incentives — paying someone to lose weight — helps, but a May 2018 study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes found that paying people to maintain their weight loss didn’t work as well. In fact, it was no more effective than daily home weighing with automated text messaging feedback.

Our Take

The findings aren’t entirely surprising, but incentives do play a role. In fact, they have been shown to be beneficial in promoting exercise among children and adults.

Behavioral medicine has long known that successful weight loss relies on a combination of strategies. Those strategies include self-monitoring, such as daily weighing or keeping a daily food log; provision of feedback, such as that provided by a coach; goal-setting; building social support; and avoiding the bad stuff altogether, known as stimulus control. Gold standard interventions promote a combination of these along with internal and external motivations for lasting results.

Behavioral medicine also separates strategies that work when 1) initiating a behavior/program; 2) adhering to it; and 3) maintaining the change.

With maintenance, daily weighing has been proven to be a highly effective strategy for weight loss and maintenance — whereas incentives have been shown to be effective in the initiation and early adherence to exercise regimens.

A robust analysis in 2013 found incentives could increase attendance at exercise sessions in programs for up to 6 months but were not effective longer term. And a 1998 study found incentives increased attendance at exercise sessions in a weight loss program but did not translate into better weight loss.

Our Recommendations

Incentives can be utilized in the context of a comprehensive wellness strategy, but are not sufficient as the only strategy.
Align incentives to specific discrete tasks, such as attendance at classes.

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