When motivating people to lose weight, money is an effective incentive, a new study by the Mayo Clinic reveals.

Participants in a weight loss study who received financial incentives were noticeably more likely to adhere to a weight-loss program and collectively lost more weight than those who did not get incentives.

Earlier research has shown that financial rewards encourage people to lose weight, however, the current study analyzed a much larger group of participants (100) over a longer period (one year), according to author Steven Driver, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic.

One hundred healthy Mayo employees or their family members were randomly placed in one of four weight loss groups: two with financial rewards and two without.

All participants ranged in age from 18 to 63 years and had a BMI (body mass index) of 30 to 39.9 kg/m2.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.

Each subject was given a goal of losing four pounds every month leading up to a previously established goal weight. Participants weighed in once a month for 12 months; earlier studies involving financial rewards only followed subjects for 12 and 36 weeks.

The participants who achieved their goals were given $20 per month, while those who did not were required to pay $20 into a bonus pool.

Subjects in both incentive groups who finished the study were eligible to win the bonus pool by lottery.

The rates for the incentive groups that completed the study were significant compared with the non-incentive groups (62 percent vs. 26 percent). In the reward groups, the participants’ mean weight loss was 9.08 pounds, for the non-rewards group it was 2.34 pounds.

Dr. Driver explained:

“The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives. The financial incentives can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence.”

The investigators also found that subjects in the incentive groups who ended up paying penalties were more inclined to continue their weight loss program than those in the non-incentive groups.

The authors also emphasized that obesity is still a major issue in the United States, specifically because extra weight causes many health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Senior study author Donald Hensrud, M.D., preventive medicine expert at Mayo Clinic and medical editor of The Mayo Clinic Diet concluded, “Traditional therapies are not working for a lot of people, so people are looking for creative ways to help people lose weight and keep it off. The results of this study show the potential of financial incentives.”

A similar study was completed in 2008 by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School, VA Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia, which found similar results – financial incentives proved effective for short-term weight loss goals.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald