Paying people to lose weight may backfire in the long run

Financial incentives are widely used in health behavior interventions. However, new research suggests that paying people to maintain a healthier lifestyle may actually lead them to gain weight and be less active.

The study, published in the Journal of Obesity, assessed participants’ financial motivation to participate in the “Make Better Choices” trial — a trial testing four different strategies for improving four health risk behaviors: low fruit and vegetable intake, high saturated fat intake, low physical activity, and high sedentary screen time.

The study found that participants who reported being more motivated by financial incentives were worse off in terms of their diet and activity (among men), and their body weight (men and women) at the end of a 17-week follow-up period.

The study authors posit that when financial incentives are overemphasized, they have the potential to be interpreted as controlling and thus undermine participant’s motivation and subsequent maintenance of targeted health behaviors.

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