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NHS trials cashback for weight loss

A study has found that financial rewards for losing weight works for some people – but overall results are ‘mixed’
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
obese belly

7th June 2010 - An NHS trial to test whether paying people to shed pounds is an effective weapon in the war on obesity has had mixed results. However, the company behind the incentive scheme says paying people with cash and holiday vouchers is a great way to persuade people to lose weight and keep it off.

NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent funded the trial, which started in January 2009 and involved 402 volunteers. Two thirds of those who started the programme failed to reach their target. However, those who did complete the course lost on average more than 25lbs (11.3 kg).

High drop-out rate

An independent evaluation of the trial concluded that, although financial incentives clearly work for some people, the high drop-out rate meant that more work needed to be done to understand the true effects of incentives on weight loss.

The ‘Pounds for Pounds’ trial was launched in partnership with Weight Wins, which has developed the concept of rewarding weight loss with a structured system of payment incentives.

The joining fee is £45, followed by monthly instalments of £10.

Participants are weighed each month at a pharmacy, fitness centre or doctor’s surgery. The company credits participants for every pound they have lost. Depending on the amount of weight lost, and whether they keep the weight off, rewards range between £80 and £3,000.

Winton Rossiter, founder of Weight Wins, tells us, “People are attracted by the money but stay for the discipline of the monthly weigh-ins.”

Weight Wins does not endorse a specific method of weight loss. The company issues starter packs which include a weight loss guide and daily tick sheets for dieting and exercise, which have been independently validated by specialist dieticians within the NHS.

Debating incentives

The controversial issue of whether people should be rewarded for changing their behaviour was the subject of a recent debate by the Citizens’ Council of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Evidence (NICE). The group, which allows the public to contribute to NICE’s decision making, spent two days debating the ins and outs of using incentives in areas such as stopping smoking and losing weight.

Claire Martin, Acting Assistant Director of Public Health for NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent explained the incentive scheme to the Citzens' Council. She told them, “In these challenging times we need to make tough financial decisions and make sure we are investing our money wisely and these initial findings are just part of the overall picture.

“Very often people lose weight but when they stop their diet the weight returns within a short space of time. We need to invest in programmes that return a sustained weight loss and produce long-term health benefits.

“In conclusion, there were high drop-out rates and so it is very difficult to interpret the results to show how successful this would be across our population.”

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