Apparently the UK has come up with a brilliant plan to pay people for weight loss. The quote study done by that Mayo Clinic that shows that incentivized subjects lost more weight than subjects who did not get an incentive. Conclusion: Companies should start offering financial and other rewards to employees who lose weight.
Here’s why this solution is completely misguided:
1. People may succeed in hitting a goal when offered a reward, but what about long-term maintenance? Studies also show that long-term weight loss is very difficult to maintain. Mayo Clinic may be a leading research and medical institution, but quoting one study from a reliable source does not a solid argument make.
2. Will the incentives continue long term? If someone is only doing something for the sake of a reward, will they continue engaging in that behavior once their goal has been met and the external incentive is gone? I’m dubious about that.
3. Bribing people to do something is not a good way to change behavior. That desire to change has to come from within, or it makes long-term sustainability even more challenging.
4. Having tax payers potentially fund part of this could cause resentment toward fat people (much like many people already resent those who are dependent on aid programs), thus increasing weight stigma.
5. The article admits that this is being done due to increasing costs of supporting increasing waistlines…thus adding to the problem of weight stigma. Studies show that stigma damages health as well – not to mention that stigma does not make people lose weight. In fact, it tends do to the opposite.
6. The article admits that low income families are particularly affected. Okay, so do those people work for companies who will offer those incentives? Will those employees get raises, so that they can buy better quality food and take the time for self-care? The real issue for low income groups is that they’re often in survival mode – trying to make enough just to pay for the necessities in life doesn’t leave a lot of time or money for eating healthy, cooking healthy meals, exercising, etc. The cheapest foods available (particularly in the U.S.) are often the least healthy.
7. What about people who are out of work, or can’t work?
8. Failure to lose weight when offered an incentive can further the stereotype that fat people are lazy and have no willpower, thus increasing stigma.
9. This incentive is a superficial, band-aid response to larger cultural and socioeconomic issue, and while it may have a short-term impact, my prediction is that long-term, it will not be successful or viable.
The fact is, healthy living and self-care are luxuries, yet we view them as requirements and obligations, and fault people when they can’t or choose not to indulge in those luxuries. We have a lot of really big socioeconomic factors to fix, yet we just keep pointing to fat people and blaming them for the mess we’ve all contributed to. Let’s fix social stigma. Let’s fix income inequality. Let’s fix food regulation in the U.S. Those are the real issues.