It's time to pay people to lose weight


A new study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested the viability of a controversial approach to obesity-- paying the obese to lose weight. According the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Rubenstein, researchers from the business and medical schools of the University of Pennsylvania tested 57 subjects who were given a 4 month weight loss target of 16 pounds. The subjects were divided into three groups; one group received lottery chances in a daily drawing for money, and could claim their winnings at the end of the study only if they kept losing. Another group bet on their own chance of success, putting their own money on the table, which the study matched dollar for dollar as the subject lost weight. A third were offered no incentives.

The group that bet on their own success lost an average of 14 pounds over four months, for which they earned $378.49. The lottery-incented lost 13.1 pounds on average and walked away with $272.80. The control group lost a paltry 3.9 pounds apiece.

Before you discount this idea, consider the cost of obesity to our national health care budget. According to the CDC, as far back as 1998 overweight and obese Americans cost the country between $51.5-$78.5 billion a year in additional health care costs.

With insurance costs in the stratosphere, I would think that the cost of paying the overweight to lose and maintain could be covered by the health care insurance providers, because it would more than pay for itself in health care savings. The same goes for those covered by government programs.

If this additional motivation is what it takes to inspire some people to lose and maintain, what's the harm? Everyone wins; the public and private providers save money, the subjects become healthier, and seats on airplanes become less crowded. I say, give it a try.