We watched the tail-end of a TV programme this evening about the award of financial incentives to people to lose weight. The programme featured two teams of people set against each other in a competition to see which could lose the greatest total amount of weight. The red team were told that for every 1% of their individual excess weight loss, that member would be given £10. The blue team did not receive any financial reward and were not told that the red team were getting the cash incentive. Both teams were given full support through a six week programme of weight loss and exercise and fitness training.
At the end of the six weeks, the red team had lost the greatest amount of total weight and all the team members received their individual cash rewards. One lady received £70 for losing 7% of her excess weight! The blue team were then told about the cash incentive for the red team and they were a little 'miffed' to say the least. Some of them said that they would have tried harder had they been getting money!
However, one year later, every member of the red team had re-gained all or most of their excess weight, and every member of the blue team had kept off the weight they had lost. For some experts, this is seen as evidence that the financial reward for weight loss scheme currently being piloted by the NHS, is doomed to failure. The outcome of this mini-experiment is interpreted as showing that the people who lost weight without any financial reward did so because they were truly motivated and committed to losing weight. The other group, conversely, were motivated by the incentive - and once that was gone - so was the motivation to lose weight.
Personally, I think the NHS is barking up the wrong tree in providing payments to people for weight loss. Granted, they do have the built-in safeguard that no money exchanges hands until participants have kept off the lost weight for at least 6 months. However, the whole philosophy of this initiative encourages people to tackle weight loss - motivated by money. I find it difficult to see how this can be succesful in the long run. On another point, I was a little concerned that the exercise programme had overweight people going from no exercise at all, to running a 10km race in just six weeks. In a previous life (!) I used to be a road-runner and I know only too well the damage that can be caused to knee and ankle ligaments when (a) running with too much weight, and (b) training too hard over too short a period. For overweight people, slowly does it is the watchword - both for exercise and weight loss!