Monetary Incentives May Inspire Weight Loss
Virginia Tech recently received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effectiveness of the incentaHEALTH program.
Now in its fifth year, incentaHEALTH is an online, employer-based program that offers strategies as well as a monetary incentive to motivate employees to lose weight.
Paul Estabrooks, an associate professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise, said the total award amount is approximately $2.5 million. Estabrooks leads a team of scientists who are researching how effective incentaHEALTH is in motivating participants to lose weight and maintain that weight over time.
“One-third of Americans are obese, and 65 percent of the population is overweight or obese,” said Davy Kevin, associate professor of HNFE. “From a public health standpoint, most Americans are affected by having excess fat. That’s a problem because … obesity is associated with bad health outcomes.”
There are currently few studies that have shown that good weight management improves productivity in the workplace, but Estabrooks hopes that this study will be a new breakthrough in this front.
“Employers typically pay for these weight-loss programs for their employees,” said Jack Rule, CEO and co-founder of incentaHEALTH. “In order to justify spending this money, they need to know what the potential savings might be. That’s why this study is so important.”
The incentaHEALTH program is a two-part program: measurement and strategic coaching in exercise and nutrition. Employees simply need to log onto a Web site and they can be enrolled in the program within a couple of minutes.
After answering questions about their eating and exercise habits, responses are evaluated and strategies are offered back to the participants.
Every three months, employees weigh themselves in a “hot spot,” or a weigh-in kiosk located within a relatively private area. These hot spots include a place to log in, an accurate scale, and a camera, which is used for verification. This allows participants to see their progress visually over the year.
The main incentive with the program is a check that participants may receive should they lose weight within the three-month quarter, and then also if they maintain that weight or lose more after the next quarter.
“They get a check of the amount of pounds lost in dollars over the next three months of the next quarter,” Estabrooks said.
The second part of the program is the behavioral change elicited from the offered coaching.
“IncentaHEALTH is not a diet because diets just don’t work,” Rule said. “After you come off a diet, you’re left with nothing but old habits. What we try to do is effect a behavioral change by sending daily e-mails, which coach on eating and exercise.”
Rule said that Estabrooks sought the grant because there is a lack of information that financially ties weight loss to a company’s health care costs.
“We don’t know how much money will be saved by helping these people lose weight,” Rule said. “Intuitively, the employer, as well as the scientific community, knows there will be financial savings. Estabrooks is studying the significance of what the health care savings will be.”
The goal of the study is to examine what strategies participants find useful and to determine if similar programs should be encouraged.
“Our mission is to do the type of research that will ultimately lead to a strong public health impact,” Estabrooks said. “We’re really looking at this very technologically advanced intervention so we can disseminate it to the entire population.”
incentaHEALTH is an innovative health care technology company based in Denver, Colorado. incentaHEALTH’s fully outsourced, employee weight management program is designed to help organizations reduce their health care costs by offering incentives to employees for improving their health. This is achieved by helping employees manage their weight through the use of interactive email coaching, workplace weigh-ins on private kiosks, and cash rewards for maintaining long term health improvements. For more information, visit http://www.incentaHEALTH.com.