Research: Incentives promote wellness program loss engagement


Incentives can help with attendance but might not help with weight loss.

[pullquote]”A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” -Napolean Bonaparte. [/pullquote]One of the largest problems with community or work-related weight loss programs is engagement.  The old adage is true, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drinks or can you.  If you can encourage a person to become more involved, maybe it will assist them with weight loss.  Napolean said it best: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”   If the same is true for weight loss, maybe we can encourage weight loss with a nominal incentive.  

Exercise with Kettlebells
Exercise with Kettlebells

A study published in September of 2018 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine​[1]​.  The researchers attempted to assess weight loss outcomes among nearly 1100 participants of a weight management program across ten different worksites in a retrospective analysis.  In the study, weekly classes focused on diet, exercise and behavior change.  One of the employers provided incentives for weight loss, and two employers incentivized weight loss and class attendance.  The subjects had a mean weight loss of -2.9%.  The average number of classes attended was 6.87 of 10 and was significantly correlated with percent weight change.  Participants who were incentivized for attendance attended significantly more classes(7.5 classes out of ten) than did those not so incentivized (6.4 out of ten).   Unfortunately, the difference in attendance did not result in more weight loss, and incentives in this study did not result in additional weight loss.  

The bottom line: This study is just a single study, but the data support the effectiveness of this worksite program in promoting engagement but not weight loss.  More research is needed but especially a longer duration study.  I would not consider the lack of weight loss to be a reason to discount this study because other studies have shown incentives to be helpful for weight loss.  Weight loss is only a single aspect of the benefits of engagement in a wellness program, and if utilizing incentives to promote class attendance may be beneficial for increasing engagement, it would likely help in other areas.


  1. [1]
    S. Hales, T. Turner, D. Sword, L. Nance, J. D. Brown, and P. M. O’Neil, “Evaluation of a Lifestyle Change Worksite Weight Management Program Across Multiple Employers and Sites,” J, p. 1, Sep. 2018 [Online]. Available: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001442″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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