If losing weight was on your New Year’s resolution list, then 2014 is your year to shine as you have a huge financial incentive to keep your weight in check. Starting next year, the health care law includes a provision that would allow employers with more than 50 employees to require overweight workers who do not exercise to pay more to cover their insurance costs. Excited by this provision, quite a few employers have now begun designing weight-loss, health and wellness programs that use money to succeed where willpower has failed.
For instance, at Bowie Health Center in Bowie, Md., Peggy Renzi and her nurses deal with patients who are either overweight or obese on a regular basis. The team needs extra-large stretchers or ambulances, and at times extra nurses to haul all that extra girth. It’s not just the patients who battle obesity; the nurses too grapple with their own weight issues. To combat their weight, Renzi along with her co-workers entered a national weight-loss contest sponsored by HealthyWage. Over three months, the nurses hope to shed at least 10 percent of their weight and win $10,000. The team relies heavily on their mobile phones and social networking sites to track progress and keep tabs on each other.
According to economist John Cawley of Cornell University, studies show monetary rewards often serve as an incentive in helping people who want to quit smoking or taking illegal drugs. With food, however, the equation is different. Old habits are hard to eliminate and a lot of willpower is required. Cawley’s research shows three-quarters of people give up on diets, even if they stand to gain a lot of money.
It’s a good thing that employers and health insurance companies are experimenting with ways to structure financial incentives — as well as disincentives — to encourage weight loss. Cawley says the overall objective of pushing employees to become healthier makes a lot of financial sense. He cautions companies to create health and wellness programs that are sustainable instead of ones that promote quick weight loss. So while giving money away may not be the best answer, Cawley’s work reveals that people fight harder to shed weight if they stand to lose money.