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Can you lose weight faster if someone pays you to do it?


Behavioral Economics and Weight Loss
Web sites like stickK (pictured here), Healthy Wage and DietBet enable users to commit to personal challenges that pay off if the goal is met.
Web sites like stickK (pictured here), Healthy Wage and DietBet enable users to commit to personal challenges that pay off if the goal is met.
Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

Sometimes, spending money to motivate people to lose weight and stay healthy actually costs less than the medical expenses associated with obesity-related illnesses. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that in 2008 alone the health costs for a person with a BMI greater than 30 were $1,429 higher than a peer with a normal BMI (between 18.5 and 24.9) -- that's nearly $150 billion spent treating obesity-related conditions [source: CDC]. That's a lot more than we wager on our own weight loss.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. (the number one cause of preventable deaths is tobacco smoking) [source: Get America Fit Foundation, National Cancer Institute]. Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and stroke are all obesity-related problems, as are type II diabetes, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease and certain cancers (including breast cancer and colon cancer). Eighty percent of type II diabetes cases are obesity-related, for example, and treating Americans with type II diabetes costs nearly $64 billion annually [source: Get America Fit Foundation]. Getting Americans to wager on their own weight loss not only has the potential to reduce waistlines but healthcare costs as well.

Participation in a structured weight-loss program is shown to help us lose those extra pounds, especially if that program offers financial rewards for losing pounds. Programs vary, and some are set up to reward you with cash prizes. Others are set up for you to bet your own money on your own weight loss. Some pool prize money in a lottery. And some are a combination of your own contributions matched with cash prizes given for meeting your wellness goals. All participants (whether gaining, losing or plateaued) in incentive programs with their own cash on the line still bet on their weight loss; in fact, more than 50 percent of participants who are not meeting their goals still make contributions to their deposit contracts -- consider it wishful thinking or wishful wagering, but if weight isn't lost, money isn't paid out [source: John].