Overweight employees respond to financial incentives

According to USA Today, a recent study shows that overweight employees who received money for weight loss lost more weight than employees who received nothing.

Conducted by RTI International, a nonprofit research organization in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the study took place during a three-month period and involved 200 overweight or obese employees. One-third of participants were given $14 for every 1 percent decrease in their body weight; one-third were given $7 for every 1 percent decrease; and one-third were given no financial incentive. The participants were not given a structured diet or exercise program.

Participants who received no reward lost an average of 2 pounds, and participants who received $7 lost 3 pounds. Employees who received $14 lost an average of 5 pounds and were more than five times more likely to lose 5 percent of their weight.

"Lots of companies are experimenting with rewarding people for weight loss, and this study provides evidence that paying people to lose weight works," says Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with RTI International.

Finkelstein says it is unclear whether participants will keep the weight off or whether this strategy would be profitable for companies. However, he calculates that at a company with 1,000 employees, obesity costs about $285,000 per year in increased medical costs and absenteeism.

About 66 percent of people in the U.S. are overweight or obese, increasing the risk of illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. According to health experts, a person is considered overweight if he or she weighs 1 to 29 pounds more than a healthy weight and obese if he or she weighs 30 or more pounds more than a healthy weight.

Some companies have started implementing health incentives for employees. UnitedHealthcare® has announced it will start offering employers policies with higher deductibles for employees who smoke, are overweight, or have high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Date : 9/13/2007