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Here’s Another Commitment Device for Weight Loss

We recently wrote about the use of commitment devices in weight loss, particularly the recent spike in bariatric surgery. While advocates can make a strong argument in favor of the surgery, especially for the morbidly obese, it is obviously a pretty drastic resort.

An article in the current Journal of the American Medical Association highlights a far less invasive commitment device: the pedometer. It turns out that if you give someone a pedometer, especially if you give them a goal for how many steps they should be taking in a day, the results are pretty wondrous:

The results suggest that the use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure.

There is, however, a strong qualifier:

Whether these changes are durable over the long term is undetermined.

Ah, but that’s always the rub with commitment devices and weight loss, isn’t it? It’s a lot easier to commit and improve in the short term, especially when someone’s watching your behavior. The long term, unobserved, is another matter entirely. Which is probably why bariatric surgery, which is as close to a permanent commitment device as you can get, will continue to rise.

Maybe a newfangled pedometer is called for — something like an electronic ankle bracelet (think Disturbia, if you must) that not only measures your steps but also gives a little electric shock when you spend too much time on the couch.