Will you lose weight if you get paid? “Money talks” was the conclusion of a Mayo Clinic study presented earlier this month to the American College of Cardiology conference in San Francisco.
The prestigious clinic’s Dr. Steven Driver is the lead author of the year-long research on 100 employees and their family members aged 18-63 who had a body mass index (BMI) high enough to qualify them to be considered obese.
The rules were simple. If you lost four pounds in a month, you won $20. If you didn’t meet your goal, you paid in $20 to create a bonus pool. All players, even if they didn’t lose weight, had a chance to win the bonus pool at the end of twelve months as long as they had stayed in the program.
Dieters in a group that didn’t participate in the game lost a puny 2.34 pounds over the course of the year. Dieters in the game lost an average of 9 pounds. Players who had paid a penalty were more likely to stay in the program for the entire year than players who didn’t.
Dr. Driver and the Mayo Clinic thought the results were evidence that, if you’re paid, you’re more likely to lose weight. Well, yeah OK. I’ll give him that much. A teeny tiny bit of weight.
But c’mon. If the goal is to lose four pounds a month in 12 months, everybody missed it by a mile.
What they really proved is that gamblers chase their losses. At some point, you have to figure that the weight is not coming off and that your best chance of getting your money back is to hang in there and hope they call your name in the random lottery.
The study isn’t about losing weight. It’s about the money.
Here’s what Dr. Driver told CNN’s Matt Sloane: “About 86% of large employers are already offering some kind of financial incentives to help employees reach their health goals. But one problem employers run into with financial incentives is that they can be expensive. Part of our model was to allow the so-called ‘losers’ to fund the ‘winners.’ ”
Now the light is starting to dawn. Employers want their employees to lose weight and get healthy, but they don’t necessarily want to pay for expensive treatments that might actually work like bariatric surgery. The gambling game might be a fun way to get employees to shed pounds while making them pay for the privilege.
I’ve got no problem with a business trying to save a buck. On the other hand, I’m fascinated with how to crack gambling games. The Mayo Clinic game was close to unbreakable because you had to be an employee or a close relative and you were monitored by professionals who could measure your weight, BMI, and so forth in person.
However, the new study has given a rash of publicity to sites like Healthy Wage and Diet Bet, which allow you to join online weight loss gambling games. No doubt I’m a force for evil, but when writer Tim Ferris announced he’d be hosting a $1,000,000 contest on DietBet last fall, the first thing I’m thinking is, “OK, how do I get my hands on a piece of the million dollars?”
And I don’t really have any extra weight to lose.
Now these sites do have rules to prevent professionals from gaming the system. Here’s DietBet’s statement:
“We have a photo review process in which players submit proof of their initial and final weights to our team of Referees. We also have algorithms that detect unusual activity within a game or across games and use an auditing system where some players may be required to submit extra proof of their weight loss using: a Skype weigh-in with one of our Referees, a video weigh-in, or an in-person weigh-in at a location pre-approved by DietBet.”
I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow how-to, but if you can’t hack that system, turn in your copy of Photoshop.
What ultimately protects the games from cheaters looking to pick up a few extra bucks? It turns out that it’s just so not worth it.
Far from attracting a million-dollar pot, the Tim Ferris challenge created only a $33,700 pot, returning a measly $93 on a $50 investment to the 362 official winners. And that may be the biggest pot ever created on the site. Biggest Loser 11’s Hannah & Olivia have started a pot for a challenge beginning Monday — and, at the time of writing, the total was $31,925 contributed by 1,277 players. Sure, the pot will grow as players join, but so will the number of people you have to split the money with.
And most pots seem to have less than a few hundred dollars to be divided among the winners.
By this gambler’s math, the game is reasonably safe from cheaters because the amount of money you stand to win isn’t worth the trouble.
Have you participated in a game where you lose weight to get paid?