Social Incentives and Gamification to Promote Weight Loss: The LOSE IT Randomized, Controlled Trial

J Gen Intern Med. 2018 Oct;33(10):1669-1675. doi: 10.1007/s11606-018-4552-1. Epub 2018 Jul 12.


Background: Social networks influence obesity patterns, but interventions to leverage social incentives to promote weight loss have not been well evaluated.

Objective: To test the effectiveness of gamification interventions designed using insights from behavioral economics to enhance social incentives to promote weight loss.

Design: The Leveraging Our Social Experiences and Incentives Trial (LOSE IT) was a 36-week randomized, controlled trial with a 24-week intervention and 12-week follow-up.

Participants: One hundred and ninety-six obese adults (body mass index ≥ 30) comprising 98 two-person teams.

Interventions: All participants received a wireless weight scale, used smartphones to track daily step counts, formed two-person teams with a family member or friend, and selected a weight loss goal. Teams were randomly assigned to control or one of two gamification interventions for 36 weeks that used points and levels to enhance collaborative social incentives. One of the gamification arms also had weight and step data shared regularly with each participant's primary care physician (PCP).

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was weight loss at 24 weeks. Secondary outcomes included weight loss at 36 weeks.

Key results: At 24 weeks, participants lost significant weight from baseline in the control arm (mean: - 3.9 lbs; 95% CI: - 6.1 to - 1.7; P < 0.001), the gamification arm (mean: - 6.6 lbs; 95% CI: - 9.4 to - 3.9; P < 0.001), and the gamification arm with PCP data sharing (mean: - 4.8 lbs; 95% CI: - 7.4 to - 2.3; P < 0.001). At 36 weeks, weight loss from baseline remained significant in the control arm (mean: - 3.5 lbs; 95% CI: - 6.1 to - 0.8; P = 0.01), the gamification arm (mean: - 6.3 lbs; 95% CI: - 9.2 to - 3.3; P < 0.001), and the gamification arm with PCP data sharing (mean: - 5.2 lbs; 95% CI: - 8.5 to - 2.0; P < 0.01). However, in the main adjusted model, there were no significant differences in weight loss between each of the intervention arms and control at either 12, 24, or 36 weeks.

Conclusions: Using digital health devices to track behavior with a partner led to significant weight loss through 36 weeks, but the gamification interventions were not effective at promoting weight loss when compared to control.

Trial registration: Identifier: 02564445.

Keywords: behavioral economics; clinical trial; gamification; physical activity; smartphones; social incentives; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior Therapy / methods
  • Body Mass Index
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Games, Experimental
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Promotion / methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Obesity / therapy*
  • Smartphone
  • Social Networking*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Weight Loss / physiology*