Financial incentives spur obese adults to participate in fitness program

A health insurance company successfully used financial incentives to encourage its obese customers to enroll in and sustain a fitness program, according to a study published in the journal Translational Behavioral Medicine.

The study included participants insured by Blue Care Network, which requires its obese customers to either enroll in an approved fitness program or pay 20% more for health insurance. Approximately half of the eligible enrollees, 6,548 people, chose to participate in the WalkingSpree program. The participants used a digital pedometer to record their steps, and the data was then uploaded onto a wellness tracking website. Participants were required to walk a minimum of 5,000 steps per day to remain eligible for enhanced insurance benefits.

The researchers found that 97% of the participants met or exceeded the step goal, and two-thirds of participants indicated on a satisfaction survey that they liked the program.

“Our evaluation of Blue Care’s incentivized program showed a surprisingly high rate of people who enrolled in the Internet-mediated walking program and stuck with it — even among those who were initially hostile to the idea,” Caroline R. Richardson, MD, study author and associate professor at the University of Michigan Department of Family Medicine, stated in a news release. “Wellness interventions like this clearly hold significant promise for encouraging physical activity among adults who are obese.”

The researchers noted that future studies will be needed to determine whether participation in programs like this one translates into meaningful changes in health and the costs of health care.

For more information:

Richardson CR. Translational Behavioral Medicine. 2013. doi: 10.1007/s13142-013-0211-6.

Disclosure: Richardson is a scientific advisor for WalkingSpree and unpaid consultant for Blue Care Network, but she does not receive compensation in either of these roles.

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