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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Incentives for Weight Loss

Most Americans weigh too much -- and it's making them and our entire health care system sick. If we're lucky, lifelong wellness programs may offer help.

Incentives and prevention are key to successful weight loss.
People are more likely to lose weight if they are paid for it, according to a new research study.
Weight-loss programs that "reward people with money -- and remind them of the cash they stand to lose if they fail" -- provided a powerful incentive to lose weight compared with more conventional approaches, according to a recent study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that test subjects lost much more weight if they were paid. However, the patients started to put the weight back on again once they stopped being paid.
Despite that good news, obesity continues to be one of the nation's top health threats, according to a recent article in Reuters. That is not a surprise to the Obama administration. The rise in obesity accounts for 15 percent to 27 percent of growth in overall health care spending, according to Ken Thorpe, a health care policy scholar at Emory University who has advised Obama.

The problem, say some experts, is that the health care system focuses on treatment rather than prevention. Two thirds of all Americans are either overweight or obese. As the University of Pennsylvania study shows, it is very difficult to lose weight once it has been gained.

The key to controlling obesity, and lowering health care costs, says Thorpe, is to empower local programs to prevent obesity. For example, he says, "the federal government could grant funds to communities to establish nutrition and exercise programs."

Thorpe also praises employer-sponsored programs, like Johnson & Johnson's "Live for Life," which includes voluntary risk appraisals and incentives for healthy living, according to Reuters.

"I think we'll see more incentives used," Thorpe said.

Note to Wellness Professionals

Be aware that incentives (and punishments) for workplace wellness programs can create legal trouble and morale issues.

See this post about HIPAA and wellness incentives and another on what employees think about incentive programs.

And for more information, take a look at all my posts about incentives.

Incentive programs are something we have a lot of experience with here at Wellness Corporate Solutions. If you're considering an incentive program, we're happy to talk about it.

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