Gain pounds by losing pounds, say Scottish scientists
EARNING pounds by shedding pounds could prove an effective way to persuade people to lose weight, Scottish scientists have found.
In a study commissioned by Professor Mandy Ryan, of Aberdeen University, the majority of respondents said financial incentives would encourage them to lose weight, with more men than women saying they would be motivated by cash rewards.
Among the “carrot instead of stick” options that could work are financial payments for successful weight loss, free gym memberships and subsidised fruit and vegetables.
The proposals, which will be debated by Ryan at a British Science Festival event in Aberdeen today, offer a radical solution to Scotland’s obesity epidemic, which affects 27 per cent of the population and costs the NHS about £450 million a year.
Patients signing up to an incentive scheme could be set a series of weight loss aims and receive payment each time they hit a target.
“While the evidence suggests that behaviour changes, such as diet and exercise, improve health, its value to participants was limited,” Ryan said. “Financial incentives could be used to help maximise uptake of health lifestyle interventions. It is difficult to get people to change, but one way that might be successful is financial incentives.”
It would not be the first scheme in Scotland to offer financial rewards for healthy behaviour. In 2009, NHS Tayside ran a two-year pilot project in which smokers were given Asda vouchers worth £12.50 for every week they stayed away from cigarettes. More than 3,000 people signed up for the Quit4U scheme which offered financial incentives to smokers living in deprived areas of Dundee. An estimated 1,000 quit the habit.
Ryan’s study shows that rewarding people for losing weight could be more successful than traditional methods such as encouraging them to take up exercise for its own sake or hammering home the healthy eating message.
However, Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum argued that a “fat tax” on unhealthy food was the best way of sending a message to consumers that the product is bad for you.
“The tax has got to be set at a significant level,” he said. “A recent article in the British Medical Journal advised a 20 per cent tax. I think this should be the minimum.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Powers to set a national tax on food or on specific nutrients like fat are reserved.
However, the Scottish Government is committed to tackling the problem of obesity and our action plan on obesity prevention sets out actions to make it easier for everyone to make healthy choices, including eating better and becoming more active.”
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