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The Power of Financial Incentives

HealthChallenge’s founders created the company based on inspiration from academic research about financial incentives, and real-world experience with office weight loss challenges. This page summarizes some of that history and research; however, please make no mistake: weight loss is challenging. We present this information to help you understand the origins of HealthyWage and the basis for our approach to behavior change. We do NOT present this information to try to convince you that financial incentives make weight loss easy or any kind of sure bet. Even with a big financial incentive, you still have to make the right choices and put in the serious effort!

Leading academics have found that money enhances weight loss success, making dieters significantly more likely to lose weight.  HealthChallenge applies that research, offering cash weight loss challenges that model those studies and make losing weight more fun and effective.

You’d think health and vanity alone would be strong enough motivators for weight loss, but financial incentives provide additional benefits that are critical to success.  Cash-based challenges are powerful tools that help you (1) commit to a specific starting point (eliminating pre-diet procrastination), and (2) avoid quitting before you’ve accomplished your goals.

Double-Incentivization

One widely cited study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (“JAMA”) found those who have a financial incentive to lose weight were almost five times more likely to reach their target than dieters with no money at stake.  See Volpp, K.G., John, L.K., Troxel, A.B., Norton, L., Fassbender, J., and Loewenstein, G., “Financial Incentive-based Approaches for Weight Loss: A Randomized Trial,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(22), 2631-2637 (2008).

The JAMA study, conducted by researchers at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, divided a group of dieters (in the same weight loss program) into groups.  One of the groups received no financial incentive.  Another group received a double-incentive in the form of a cash weight loss bet.  Each participant wagered up to $336.  As a negative incentive, if the dieters failed to achieve their goal they lost the cash deposit.  As a positive incentive, the dieters were offered a cash prize of up to three times their deposit if they achieved their weight loss goal.

The results were astounding.  Dieters in the incentive group lost more weight than dieters in the non-incentive group, and dieters in the incentive group were more likely than dieters in the non-incentive group to achieve their weight loss goal.

Long-Term Success

A widely publicized 2013 study by Mayo Clinic revealed that a well-designed incentive program produces outstanding, long-term success.  The year-long Mayo study divided participants into two groups:  one group had an opportunity to win money for losing weight and one group did not.  Both groups were given extensive weight loss tips, reminders and web-based tools for weight loss.

The results were conclusive.  The participants who received cash incentives were more likely to stick with the weight-loss program and lost more weight than participants who received no incentives. Researchers concluded that 62% of those in the incentivized group lost weight, compared to only a 26% success rate in the non-incentivized group.

Social dieting makes weight loss more fun and successful

Social dieting — including elements like competition, team work & encouragement and, of course, gentle peer pressure (you don’t want to screw things up for your team!) — is a powerful and exciting weight loss tool.  The latest research and HealthyWage’s own experience suggest that you should consider including social dieting in your weight loss plan.

Weight Loss Is Contagious

In a recent Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that social networks play a significant role in the trait of obesity, including in its proliferation and its remediation. In other words, people with obese co-workers, friends and family are more likely to be obese themselves.

Published by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD, (a professor at Harvard Medical School), et al., the article explains the results of a study in which researchers “evaluated a network of 12,067 people who underwent repeated measurements over a period of 32 years . . . [and] examined several aspects of the spread of obesity, including the existence of clusters of obese persons within the network, the association between one person’s weight gain and weight gain among his or her social contacts, the dependence of this association on the nature of the social ties (e.g., ties between friends of different kinds, siblings, spouses, and neighbors), and the influence of sex, smoking behavior, and geographic distance between the domiciles of persons in the social network.”

The researchers concluded that social networks are closely tied to obesity, and examined the reasons why social networks affect people’s weight, including that people “are influenced by the evident appearance and behaviors of those around them” and because “social contacts might change a person’s tolerance for being obese or might influence his or her adoption of specific behaviors.” The researchers stated that “[a] person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% . . . if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval.” The researchers also concluded that “weight-loss interventions that provide peer support — that is, that modify the person’s social network — are more successful than those that do not. People are connected, and so their health is connected.”

See N.A. Christakis and J.H. Fowler, “The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network Over 32 Years,” New England Journal of Medicine 357(4): 370-79 (July 2007)

Teamwork Makes Weight Loss More Fun & Successful

A Brown University study concluded that social networks and teamwork play a significant role in enhancing weight loss outcomes in weight loss interventions.

In particular, the researchers found that having more social contacts trying to lose weight is connected with greater weight loss intentions, and that changes in physical activity are similar among teammates in a team-based physical activity campaign.

See Leahey, T.M., Kumar, R., Weinberg, B., Wing, R.R., “Teammates and Social Influence Affect Weight Loss Outcomes in a Team-based Weight Loss Competition,” Obesity, 20 7, 1413-18 (2012).

Making Weight Loss Fun Is Key

One of the main reasons HealthChallenge is so successful and popular is that HealthChallenge is lots of fun.  Academic research and common sense both suggest that no weight loss program is complete without the element of fun.

The Power of Games

Academic research on gamification — i.e., the use of game mechanics and design, fun, feedback loops, and rewards in non-game contexts, such as fitness and weight loss — has gained respect and tremendous popularity in recent years.  That’s because making hard work into a game tends to make participants more engaged and successful.

HealthChallenge follows academic and industry research on gamification, providing users with an exciting challenge that removes pre-diet procrastination and helps prevent dieters from giving up.

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