Research/studies Worker health and wellness Incentives

Obese workers not motivated by financial weight-loss incentives: study

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Philadelphia – Financial incentives are ineffective at encouraging obese workers to lose weight, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania.

As part of the study, 197 obese workers were assigned to a wellness program and given the goal to lose 5 percent of their body weight. At random, participants were placed into four groups. The control group had no financial incentive, while the three intervention groups each had an incentive of $550. Two of those programs adjusted health insurance premiums by either postponing the change until the next year or having it take effect after meeting the goal. The other group entered participants in a daily lottery.

After one year, researchers found that participants in all four groups showed no significant change in average weight loss.

The amount of an incentive by itself “may not be enough” to spur workers to healthier behaviors, researchers said in the press release. The effectiveness of an incentive program usually depends on the program’s design and how the incentive is used, among other factors.

More than 80 percent of larger employers use financial incentives to promote health, the release states. The Affordable Care Act allows employers to use a maximum of 30 percent of health insurance premiums as rewards or penalties, which equals about $1,800 per worker.

“Though participants in our study didn’t experience significant weight loss, that doesn’t mean that all incentive programs are ineffective, only that we need to move to more creative designs that might better leverage predictable barriers to behavior change,” Dr. David Asch, professor of medicine and health care management and director of the Penn Center for Health Care Innovation, said in the release.

The study was published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs.

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