Cash for weight loss

What if your boss paid you to lose weight?


As the obesity epidemic grows and health premiums rise, new and innovative methods are being tried to help trim the fat.

One such strategy is providing financial incentives to lose weight, The Biggest Loser method. In a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers show that cash for weight loss is more effective when done with others.

Dr. Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine and health care management at the University of Pennsylvania, recruited 105 employees at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with a body mass index between 30 and 40 (greater than 30 is the definition of obesity) and divided them evenly into groups.

Group one got no cash for weight loss, group two got $100 each month if the individual met the monthly weight loss goal and group three got $500 each month divided among groups of five people – with those who met the monthly weight loss goal splitting the money evenly. Of note: the $500 group did not know the identities of the other people in the group and therefore could not help or hurt each other’s weight loss.

Each of the three groups was followed for six months and weight loss was recorded.

At the end of six months, participants with no cash incentive lost 1.1 pounds.

Those with individual incentives lost 3.7 pounds.

Those with group incentives lost 10.6 pounds.

Participants with group incentives had a trend towards higher rates of physical activity and better self-control when eating. Researchers continued to follow the groups for three months after the study ended and found a trend towards longer-lasting weight loss in those who received group incentives compared to those who received individual incentives and who received no cash.

Obesity contributes to a variety of health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and joint pain, which decrease quality of life, increase mortality, and result in higher health premiums and lost productivity for employers.

Dr. Volpp’s study shows that cash for weight loss is a win-win for all involved, particularly when done as a group, and may be used by more and more employers to encourage a healthier workforce.


Anant Mandawat, a graduate of Lakeside High School and Yale University’s Medical School, is a doctor of internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.