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Financial incentives can help men lose weight

Financial incentives can help men lose weight

Financial incentives can be effective in helping men lose weight, a new study has found.

Nearly 600 men with obesity from across the UK took part in the year-long study. Participants who were offered £400 on completing their weight loss goals were more successful in losing weight than those not offered financial incentives.

The findings are published in JAMA  and highlight a simple and effective weight loss intervention that can help tackle the growing numbers of men with obesity.

The Health Survey for England 2021 found that 25.9 per cent of adults in England are obese, and men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women. The obesity epidemic and the associated health care are estimated to cost the NHS £6.5 billion per year.

Led by Professor Pat Hoddinott from the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at the University of Stirling, the researchers consulted with over 1,000 men living with obesity to design an incentive structure.

‘Losing weight can make people feel better, reduce their risk of many health problems such as diabetes, and helps the health service with their aim to keep men well. However, we know men often don’t like to go to traditional weight loss groups. We worked closely with various men’s health groups and charities. This was a carefully planned study created for men with men,’ Professor Hoddinott said.

Following the study design consultations, over 585 men with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more were enrolled. The researchers described participants as ‘an underserved’ group in terms of health promotional activities. The men had a mean age of 51, and over a third of them lived in areas with lower socioeconomic status, 29 per cent reported a disability, 40 per cent had multiple long-term conditions and 25 per cent had been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

The men were randomly divided into three groups: one group (n=196) received behavioural-focused text messages plus the opportunity to earn £400 for meeting weight loss goals, the second (n=194) received only text messages, and the third (n=195) acted as a control group, receiving no extra support or financial incentive.

At the start of the study, all participants received weight management information and a pedometer, as well as weight loss targets. The targets included a five per cent weight loss at three months, 10 per cent at six months, and sustained 10 per cent weight loss at 12 months. If the weight loss was achieved at 12 months, the financially incentivised group received £400.

After one year, the men receiving text messages and the opportunity to earn cash lost the most weight, with an overall weight loss of five per cent. Participants who only received text messages showed three per cent weight loss, whilst the men in the control group showed one per cent weight loss.

The researchers said that investing in this type of financial incentive scheme could ‘pay for itself over the long-term’ given the considerable cost that obesity imposes on the health service.

Professor Katrina Turner, head of the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol and a co-investigator on the study, added, ‘It’s been great to work on a study that was focused on men’s health and which has shown a low-cost intervention, with little impact on NHS resources and low burden for patients, as men could access the study via their GP or directly through the study website. ‘

She concluded: ‘It is an intervention that cuts across primary care and public health. When around 25 per cent of men in the UK are living with obesity, we need effective weight loss interventions that can be implemented at scale and across different health settings.’


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