Harvard Health Letter

Do financial incentives improve health?

Ask the Doctor

couple exercising financial incentives
Most large employers now offer financial incentives to workers who make healthy lifestyle changes.
Image: PHOTOS.com/Thinkstock

Q. My employer is offering employees financial rewards if we lose weight. At first, I was shocked by this, but then I thought it might be a good thing for me, and for my employer. Does this kind of financial incentive lead to healthier lifestyles?

A. Offering financial incentives to employees for making healthy lifestyle changes is increasingly common: nearly 80% of large employers now do it. There are many ways to offer incentives, and doctors and economists are learning what works best. Some experiments have been successful. For example, employees at two large companies who were randomly selected to receive up to $800 to quit smoking were three times more likely to quit than employees encouraged to quit but not given money for doing so. However, other experiments have not worked as well. For example, employees selected at random to receive a bonus of $550 to lose weight were no more successful than employees not offered a bonus.

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