Getting Paid to Lose Weight Really Works

Money and diet - You can lose more weight with cash incentives

Before you take another bite of that doughnut, think about this: If someone paid you $20 to put it down, would you?

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that weight-loss study participants who received financial incentives were more likely to stick with a weight-loss program and lost more weight than study participants who received no incentives.

In other words, getting paid to lose pounds really works.

Money as Carrot and Stick

The Mayo Clinic researchers worked for a year with 100 participants, ages 18 to 63, each of whom had a body mass index of 30 or higher, which is considered obese. The goal for each participant was to lose four pounds per month, up to a predetermined target.

The participants were assigned to one of four groups. Two groups got no financial incentives. People in the other two groups earned $20 per month if they met their weight goals. Then there was this twist: Participants in the incentivized group who did not meet their monthly goals had to fork over $20 per month to put in a pool. Those in the incentivized groups who stuck with the study for the entire year were eligible for a lottery to win the cash.

The results were significant: 62 percent of those in the incentivized group lost weight, compared with 26 percent in the non-incentivized group. Even those who had to pay money into the pool had a higher level of complete participation in the study than those who had no financial incentive to continue.

"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives," said Steven Driver, MD, lead author of the study and an internal medicine resident at the Mayo Clinic.

How to Try This At Home

Consumers don't have to participate in an academic study to see if some cold hard cash convinces them to shed pounds. has run weight-loss challenges tied to financial incentives for more than 100,000 individuals since 2009, according to the company. It has three programs that are structured similarly to the Mayo study, though joining will cost you:

  • The 10 percent challenge: Lose 10 percent of your body weight in six months and your $150 fee will be refunded, plus you'll earn another $150.

  • The BMI challenge: You can earn up to $1,000 if you move from a BMI of over 30 to one lower than 25 within one year.

  • The Matchup: Teams of five compete to earn cash prizes for weight loss, with a first prize of $10,000.

Of course, there's always the DIY approach -- ask someone you know play "banker" while you work to whittle down your waist. You just have to be sure to choose a person who is stern enough to make you pay up for every gained pound.