Outcomes in a Program that Offers Financial Rewards for Weight Loss

67 Pages Posted: 26 May 2009  

John Cawley

Cornell University - College of Human Ecology, Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM); Cornell University - College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Economics; The University of Sydney - School of Economics; National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) - J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics; NBER; IZA

Joshua A. Price

Cornell University

Date Written: May 2009

Abstract

Obesity rates in the U.S. have doubled since 1980. Given the medical, social, and financial costs of obesity, a large percentage of Americans are attempting to lose weight at any given time but the vast majority of weight loss attempts fail. Researchers continue to search for safe and effective methods of weight loss, and this paper examines one promising method - offering financial rewards for weight loss. This paper studies data on 2,407 employees in 17 worksites who participated in a year-long worksite health promotion program that offered financial rewards for weight loss. The intervention varied by employer, in some cases offering steady quarterly rewards for weight loss and in other cases requiring participants to post a bond that would be refunded at year's end conditional on achieving certain weight loss goals. Still others received no financial incentives at all and serve as a control group. We examine the basic patterns of enrollment, attrition, and weight loss in these three groups. Weight loss is modest. After one year, it averages 1.4 pounds for those paid steady quarterly rewards and 3.6 pounds for those who posted a refundable bond, under the assumption that dropouts experienced no weight loss. Year-end attrition is as high as 76.4%, far higher than that for interventions designed and implemented by researchers.

Suggested Citation

Cawley, John and Price, Joshua A., Outcomes in a Program that Offers Financial Rewards for Weight Loss (May 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w14987. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1408907

John Cawley (Contact Author)

Cornell University - College of Human Ecology, Department of Policy Analysis & Management (PAM) ( email )

3M24 MVR Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Cornell University - College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Economics ( email )

414 Uris Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-7601
United States

The University of Sydney - School of Economics ( email )

Rm 370 Merewether (H04)
Sydney, NSW 2006 2008
Australia

National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) - J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics ( email )

Galway
Ireland

NBER

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

IZA ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Joshua A. Price

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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