People getting thinner and smoke-free faster

Articles
February 13, 2009

People getting thinner and smoke-free faster

If there’s one thing people are hungry for today, even more so than food, it’s money. So when they put dough on the line to emphasize their weight-loss plans, they’re not just baiting friends, family or co-workers into bets. They’re using those bets as motivation to stay on course and drop pounds and inches. They’re shedding excuses to fail quietly and hope no one notices. Many go beyond their circle of contacts into public view through free websites like fatbet.net and makemoneylosingweight.com, which facilitate challenges, or stickK.com, a site at which people sign contracts and pay money to designees if they miss their weight-loss goals. Friends or charities might get the dough, but so might enemies. The website reads: “Wouldn’t it just kill you to hand over your hard-earned money to someone you can’t stand?” The New York Times reported the stickK.com site, launched by two Yale University professors Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, has more than 23,000 users, including 42% with commitment contracts. One recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 2008 issue) concluded that “people who had financial incentives to lose weight were much more successful at dieting than those who did not,” the Times account noted. “The prospect of losing or winning money was a significant incentive, especially when the money was not rewarded until the end,” said Dr. Kevin Volpp, co-author of the research and an associate professor in behavioral economics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School.

If there’s one thing people are hungry for today, even more so than food, it’s money.  So when they put dough on the line to emphasize their weight-loss plans, they’re not just baiting friends, family or co-workers into bets. They’re using those bets as motivation to stay on course and drop pounds and inches.

They’re shedding excuses to fail quietly and hope no one notices. Many go beyond their circle of contacts into public view through free websites like fatbet.net and makemoneylosingweight.com, which facilitate challenges, or stickK.com, a site at which people sign contracts and pay money to designees if they miss their weight-loss goals. Friends or charities might get the dough, but so might enemies. The website reads: “Wouldn’t it just kill you to hand over your hard-earned money to someone you can’t stand?”

The New York Times reported the stickK.com site, launched by two Yale University professors Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, has more than 23,000 users, including 42% with commitment contracts.

One recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 2008 issue) concluded that “people who had financial incentives to lose weight were much more successful at dieting than those who did not,” the Times account noted. “The prospect of losing or winning money was a significant incentive, especially when the money was not rewarded until the end,” said Dr. Kevin Volpp, co-author of the research and an associate professor in behavioral economics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School.

Dr. Volpp, who is also a physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, co-authored another study of the impact of financial incentives on smokers who try to quit the habit. Money matters here too.

In the New England Journal of Medicine (February 11, 2009 issue), co-authors Volpp and Robert Galvin, the chief medical officer at General Electric, wrote that 15% of study participants who received financial incentives were smoke-free after one year, compared with 5% of the rest who weren’t offered monetary incentives. The rewards were significant: $100 for completing a smoking-cessation class, another $250 for being smoke-free after six months, and $400 more for being smoke-free after one year, USA Today reported.

In the study of nearly 900 smokers who work at GE, all participants had information about local smoking-cessation classes and GE’s health care coverage of drugs designed to help them quit. Half were offered financial incentives, and half were not. Each group had about the same number of heavily addicted smokers, noted USA Today.

According to Dr. Volpp, 70% of smokers want to quit, but only 3% succeed each year.

Of course, money is always on the line in the form of higher national health care costs due to obesity and smoking, and the complications that arise. The significance of these studies, feels SupermarketGuru.com, is the behavioral change that could be driven when money issues get personal and when pride is also on the line.