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Encouraging weight loss through group competitions for financial prizes

While debating what to order for lunch last week, my brother explained that he was participating in a Biggest Loser-style contest with a group of co-workers and the winner received a sizable cash prize. As he described the competition, I took note of how he focused on strategies for beating other contestants, his weight-loss progress and odds at winning, rather than feeling deprived of his favorite foods or complaining about having to exercise more. The experience seemed to have given him a positive outlook on dieting and even motivated him to keep the weight off. When I mentioned that he only had to "be good" for a few more months and could go back to indulging afterwards, he said "No, I wouldn't want to ruin my hard work."

So I was interested to read about new research showing that weight-loss programs involving group competitions for financial prizes motivate people to shed more pounds than those offering individual rewards. Reuters reports:

Researchers compared two incentive scenarios. Under one, employees got $100 for each month they met the goal of dropping at least one pound per week. Under the second scenario, $500 was set aside each month for a group of five co-workers and the ones who met their goal got to split the prize.

"People may be more motivated to achieve a particular goal when a particular resource that had been allocated for them is given to someone else if they don't achieve their goal," said Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren, the study's lead author from the University of Michigan Medical School and the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System.

In the randomly controlled trial, participants offered individual incentives lost 3.7 pounds, on average, compared to 10.6 pounds among those with group-based incentives. The findings were published online today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Previously: The trouble with the current calorie-counting system, How learning weight-maintenance skills first can help you achieve New Year’s weight-loss goals, Can a food-tracking app help promote healthy eating habits?Examining how friends and family can influence our weight loss and Research shows remote weight loss interventions equally effective as face-to-face coaching programs
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