In light of the obesity epidemic, there is growing interest in the use of financial incentives for dietary behavior change. Previous reviews of the literature have focused on randomized controlled trials and found mixed results. The purpose of this systematic review is to update and expand on previous reviews by considering a broader range of study designs, including randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental, observational, and simulation studies testing the use of financial incentives to change dietary behavior and to inform both dietetic practice and research. The review was guided by theoretical consideration of the type of incentive used based on the principles of operant conditioning. There was further examination of whether studies were carried out with an institutional focus. Studies published between 2006 and 2012 were selected for review, and data were extracted regarding study population, intervention design, outcome measures, study duration and follow-up, and key findings. Twelve studies meeting selection criteria were reviewed, with 11 finding a positive association between incentives and dietary behavior change in the short term. All studies pointed to more specific information on the type, timing, and magnitude of incentives needed to motivate individuals to change behavior, the types of incentives and disincentives most likely to affect the behavior of various socioeconomic groups, and promising approaches for potential policy and practice innovations. Limitations of the studies are noted, including the lack of theoretical guidance in the selection of incentive structures and the absence of basic experimental data. Future research should consider these factors, even as policy makers and practitioners continue to experiment with this potentially useful approach to addressing obesity.
Keywords: Behavior change; Diet; Incentives; Intervention; Weight loss.
Copyright © 2014 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.