Acceptability of financial incentives for encouraging uptake of healthy behaviours: A critical review using systematic methods

Prev Med. 2015 Apr:73:145-58. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.12.029. Epub 2015 Jan 17.


Objective: Financial incentives are effective in encouraging healthy behaviours, yet concerns about acceptability remain. We conducted a systematic review exploring acceptability of financial incentives for encouraging healthy behaviours.

Methods: Database, reference, and citation searches were conducted from the earliest available date to October 2014, to identify empirical studies and scholarly writing that: had an English language title, were published in a peer-reviewed journal, and explored acceptability of financial incentives for healthy behaviours in members of the public, potential recipients, potential practitioners or policy makers. Data was analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Eighty one papers were included: 59 pieces of scholarly writing and 22 empirical studies, primarily exploring acceptability to the public. Five themes were identified: fair exchange, design and delivery, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, recipients, and impact on individuals and wider society. Although there was consensus that if financial incentives are effective and cost effective they are likely to be considered acceptable, a number of other factors also influenced acceptability.

Conclusions: Financial incentives tend to be acceptable to the public when they are effective and cost-effective. Programmes that benefit recipients and wider society; are considered fair; and are delivered to individuals deemed appropriate are likely to be considered more acceptable.

Keywords: Behaviour change; Critical review; Financial incentives; Healthy behaviours; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Reward