Paying People to Lose Weight

From Science World Report:

The participants were told to achieve the goal of losing 4 pounds per month up to a predetermined goal weight. The researchers kept track of their body weight every month for almost one year. The researchers told the participants in the incentive groups that they would receive $20 per month if they achieved the goal. And those who failed to achieve the goal would need to pay $20 each month that gets into the bonus pool. Participants in both incentive groups who finished the study were entitled to win the pool by lottery.

The researchers noticed that 62 percent of the participants in the incentive group achieved the goal, while just 26 percent from the non-incentive group hit the target. The mean weight loss of participants from the incentive group was 9.08 pounds and the mean weight loss for the non incentive group was 2.34 pounds.

"The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives," lead author Steven Driver, M.D., an internal medicine resident at Mayo Clinic, said in a press statement. "The financial incentives can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence."

Cigarettes as Weight Control

We've noted before that the U.S. decline in smoking (among teens as well as adults) has likely contributed to the rise in obesity. In a new working paper (gated), John Cawley and Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder consider the degree to which smoking is a conscious effort to avoid weight gain:

We provide new evidence on the extent to which the demand for cigarettes is derived from the demand for weight control (i.e. weight loss or avoidance of weight gain).  We utilize nationally representative data [the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES)] that provide the most direct evidence to date on this question:  individuals are directly asked whether they smoke to control their weight.  We find that, among teenagers who smoke frequently, 46% of girls and 30% of boys are smoking in part to control their weight.  This practice is significantly more common among youths who describe themselves as too fat than those who describe themselves as about the right weight.

The derived demand for cigarettes has important implications for tax policy.  Under reasonable assumptions, the demand for cigarettes is less price elastic among those who smoke for weight control.  Thus, taxes on cigarettes will result in less behavior change (but more revenue collection and less deadweight loss) among those for whom the demand for cigarettes is a derived demand.  Public health efforts to reduce smoking initiation and encourage cessation may wish to design campaigns to alter the derived nature of cigarette demand, especially among adolescent girls.

More Commitment Devices From Our Readers

Our recent podcast about commitment devices, called "Save Me From Myself," continues to elicit responses from readers sharing their own experience. The other day, Amber told us about joining the Air Force as a commitment device.

Here's another pair of stories. The first is from Philip Veysey, who lives in Madrid. He is looking for some advice:

Hi guys,
I listened with interest to your podcast about commitment devices and I thought I would share my own which I devised as a way to curb my unnecessary clothes shopping.  I found that I was buying simply more clothing that I needed and although this wasn't causing me any major problems, I realized that it was really wasteful and I decided to think of incentives to make me stop.

A Smart Incentive or Obesity Persecution?

French diet guru Pierre Dukan is urging his government to give extra marks in school for a healthy BMI. The Telegraph reports:

"Obesity is a real public health problem that is rarely – if at all – taken into account by politicians," Mr Dukan told newspaper Le Parisien ahead of the book's launch.

Mr Dukan said his education plan would be "a good way to sensitise teenagers to the need for a balanced diet."

He denied it would punish overweight children, saying: "There is nothing wrong with educating children about nutrition. This will not change anything for those who do not need to lose weight. For the others, it will motivate them."

What Makes Chuck Skinny?

Weight Watchers has ads in heavy rotation with Charles Barkley saying: “lose weight like a man.” 

You can also hear him mention his success in his Saturday Night Live monologue.

Something is working. Since starting WW, he’s lost 38 pounds. But what about the Weight Watchers program that has him shedding so much weight?

Is it the group weigh-ins?

Is it the famous Weight Watchers point system? 

Or is it something else?

The Authors of Willpower Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, authors of the new book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength . You responded with a variety of interesting questions, and now Tierney and Baumeister return with some in-depth answers.

Thanks to everyone for participating.


Q. Is willpower a single commodity (so to speak), or is there, as I suspect, a one type of willpower for, say, dieting, another one for academic study, another for this, another for that? -AaronS

A. No, there’s just one single resource (or commodity). There’s one source of mental energy for resisting temptation and performing other acts of self-control, and this willpower is also depleted by making decisions. What you experience may reflect the fact that willpower is limited and so people have to allocate it: they use it at the office to work effectively and diligently, but have messy homes and are short-tempered in the evening. Or people who show wonderful self-control at dealing with personal relationships but can’t seem to meet their deadlines.

American Health Fail: What's Making Us Fat? A Decline in Smoking

Americans are fat. The latest obesity estimates reach as high as 30% of the population. The future looks worse. There’s been much hand wringing over the years, with a new television show sprouting up every season imploring the obese to lose weight. But everyone wants to know: why is this happening?

Researchers Charles Baum and Shin-Yi Chou provide a detailed look at the leading indicators of weight, using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth from 1979 and 1997 to compare the habits, similarities and differences between people of the same age - just a quarter century apart. The results aren't pleasant: the largest effect on our recent weight gain? The decline in cigarette smoking.

The Unintended Consequences of Government-Sponsored Weight-Loss Surgery

Here's how Darin McCloud, a 45-year-old man in Portsmouth, England, has been eating lately: "He has been scoffing three-quarters of a loaf of bread, several packets of crisps and bacon rolls every day, and tucking into chips, takeaways and junk food for his tea."

Getting Paid to Lose Weight

The results are in. I'm happy to report that my eBay auction ended with a winning bid of $282.85. Twenty-three bidders put in a total of 45 bids. The bidders were a mixture of seasoned eBay users (some with more than 150 eBay purchases) and newbie eBay users.

Making It Easier to Be Honest

I was a little scared to get on the scale this morning. I had eaten copious amounts this weekend - including a quarter pounder at McDonalds. But my fear was heightened because I knew that my weight would be automatically tweeted at