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Cash incentive weight-loss scheme criticised

A new NHS scheme offering cash incentives to obese people who lose weight has helped over 100 people shed almost two stone each over a twelve-month period.Launched by a primary care trust in Kent, the pilot scheme, which offered reward payments of up to £425, saw 402 volunteers sign up for a year-long ‘Pounds for pounds’ trial in January last year.

Two-thirds failed to reach weight-loss target

Only 100 of the 402 volunteers, however, completed the course and the average weight loss was 25lbs. Two-thirds of the volunteers failed to reach their weight-loss target.

The scheme’s poor results have disappointed experts who hope such initiatives will curb the ballooning incidence of diseases and conditions associated with smoking, alcohol and obesity.

Cash-incentive health schemes debated

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently met to discuss the use of cash incentives in health.  Further schemes have offered rewards to addicts to stay off drugs and £10 record vouchers to young people who agree to Chlamydia testing.

"Very often people lose weight, but when they stop their diet the weight returns. We need to invest in programmes that return a sustained weight loss and produce long-term health benefits”, said Claire Martin, Acting Assistant Director of Public Health for NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent PCT.

"There were high drop-out rates and so it is very difficult to interpret the results to show how successful this would be across our population", she added.

Difficult to ascertain success 

Gavin Terry, Policy Manager at Diabetes UK, echoed concerns about the future success of such plans:  “Whilst the research carried out on this particular scheme indicated that it worked for some people, the actual number was very small, and this was further compounded by the high dropout rate, making any final conclusions about its effectiveness difficult to ascertain.

“Financial incentives may appeal to some people. However, it would be more effective, and reach a potentially greater number of people, if there was better investment in education and awareness about the dangers of unhealthy eating, inactivity and obesity. We need to incentivise a healthy, happy and active lifestyle as a sustainable end result rather than a cash payout.”

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