Paying people to lose weight: the effectiveness of financial incentives provided by health insurers for the prevention and management of overweight and obesity - a systematic review

Obes Rev. 2018 May;19(5):605-613. doi: 10.1111/obr.12657. Epub 2017 Dec 20.


Curbing the obesity epidemic is likely to require a suite of interventions targeting the obesogenic environment as well as individual behaviour. Evidence suggests that the effectiveness of behaviour modification programmes can be enhanced by financial incentives that immediately reward weight loss behaviour. This systematic review investigated the effectiveness of incentives with a focus on assessing the relative effectiveness of incentives that target different behaviours as well as factors of importance when implementing these programmes in real-world settings (health insurer settings). A narrative review of the academic and grey literature including a variety of study designs was undertaken. Twenty studies met inclusion criteria and were assessed using the Effective Public Health Practice Project Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies. Results suggest that incentivizing weight loss is effective in the short term while the incentives are in place. There are various incentive designs, and although the relative effectiveness of each of these on weight loss is not clear, it appears that positive incentives increase the uptake into programmes and may reduce dropouts. As with other weight loss initiatives, there is a need to explore ways to maintain weight loss in the longer term - incentives for weight maintenance could play a role.

Keywords: Financial incentives; health insurer; obesity; weight loss.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / economics
  • Body Weight Maintenance
  • Health Promotion / economics
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Insurance Carriers
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / economics
  • Obesity / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Overweight / economics
  • Overweight / prevention & control*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Program Evaluation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reward*
  • Weight Loss*