Would you lose weight if money were at stake?

Posted at 10:21 AM, May 29, 2012

By Elizabeth Landau
(CNN) — You might want to lose weight, but the noticeable benefits seem so far off in the future that you continually procrastinate. You need a reason to get more fit right now – how about money?

A new study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine reinforces this idea that if money were on the line, you might start on a healthier path. Web and mobile tools are cropping up to help you do this yourself – but first, a word about the study.

The study offered as much as $175 for people who met their goals during the intervention to which they were assigned. Researchers also offered a 20-week followup period, during which time participants could earn $30 to $80 if they kept on recording and sending their information. Money may have been a motivator, although the study did not examine this directly.

Researchers looked at 204 people who had several indicators of a need to change habits: They had low physical activity and a lot of sedentary leisure time. Their intake of saturated fat was elevated, and they had a low intake of fruits and vegetables.

Each person was randomly assigned a treatment: (1) increase fruits and vegetables, (2) decrease fat and leisure time that’s not active, (3) lower fat and sedentary leisure, (4) eat more fruits and veggies and lower nonactive leisure time. Digital assistant devices helped participants monitor their activities. The study made use of mobile technologies and remote coaching for all participants.

Researchers found that the intervention resulting in the best healthy lifestyle benefits was the simultaneous increasing of fruits and vegetables and lowering of leisure time spent sedentary.

All participants got the same offer of money, so the central research question wasn’t to see whether money would help people lose weight. But after the interventions ended, many participants continued improving during the five-month follow-up period, even though they were not asked or encourage to stay healthy during that time. About 87% of the 185 people who gave exit interviews said they “definitely” or “somewhat” tried to maintain their goals, the study said.

In fact, there’s other evidence to suggest that money does matter. A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that financial incentives did get people to lose weight.

So how can you get money for losing weight if you’re not part of a study like this?

Some companies offer incentives to employees for losing weight and doing some healthy interventions.

But if yours doesn’t, you can find websites that offer rewards for healthy behaviors. Others offer you the opportunity to punish yourself financially if you don’t meet your goals (that may sound harsh, but it’s a motivator): This is a website that offers weight loss challenges. You basically bet your own money that you will make your goal. For instance, there’s a 10% challenge where you pay $100 to participate, and if you lose 10% of your body weight over six months, you win $200. People who move from an obese BMI (over 30) to a normal BMI (less than 25) in a year can earn up to $1,000. also offers more lucrative team challenges. This website lets you join with other people in betting on weight loss. You sign up with at least one other person and get 28 days to lose weight. There’s only one winner, he or she wins the entire prize pot. Multiple winners get equal shares of the pot.

GymPact: Put your money at stake to get to the gym. When you join GymPact, you create a contract with yourself to work out for a specific number of days per week. You’ll need to promise to pay up at least $5 per day of the agreed-upon total that you miss. And guess what? If you fulfill your goals, you get a reward – usually about 50 to 75 cents. It’s only available on the iPhone, but it lets you “check in” to your gym via GPS.

StickK: You can use this tool to create commitments, putting your own money on the line, for just about anything. Eat better, lose weight, quit smoking, or come up with a custom goal that you’re willing to lose money if you don’t make it. As the site’s founder Dean Karlan told CNN in 2008, “It’s a contract to make slothfulness more expensive.”