Study Suggests Employer-Based Financial Incentives Ineffective
Financial incentives offered by companies to encourage employees to lose weight might be ineffective, according to a study published Tuesday in Health Affairs, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report reports (Preidt, HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 1/6).
Under the Affordable Care Act, companies are authorized to reward employees who participate in voluntary workplace wellness programs. Specifically, the ACA allows financial incentives for employees participating in wellness programs that equate to up to 50% of employees' monthly health premiums, deductibles and other health insurance costs (California Healthline, 12/1/14). Further, the ACA allows companies to use up to 30% of coverage premiums -- totaling an average of about $1,800 per employee -- to encourage workers to adopt healthy habits.
For the study, University of Pennsylvania researchers examined 197 obese individuals enrolled in workplace wellness programs who were each given a goal to lose 5% of their body weight. Participants were randomly assigned to:
- A control group that offered no financial incentive to lose weight; or
- One of three groups that each offered a weight-loss incentive valued at $550.
Two of the programs offered reductions in participants' premium costs as an incentive, while the third group had participants take part in a daily lottery.
The study found that after 12 months, there were no significant differences in any of the groups' average weight losses.
Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, said, "There is often a presumption that the size of the reward is all that matters," noting, "In reality, incentive systems vary in effectiveness according to how well they are designed." He added, "[I]n this case, premium adjustments had little impact on weight, and the lottery incentives we used were constrained by having to do weigh-ins in workplace settings," which "made sustained engagement and behavior change more challenging."
The researchers noted that employers should try incentives other than the $550 premium-based rewards used in the study. They added that the study's findings do not mean that all workplace-based weight-loss incentive programs are ineffective (HealthDay/U.S. News & World Report, 1/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.