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November 16, 2007

Weight Loss and Incentives

Im not interested enough in this point to dig up the link, but there are a couple of economists out there trying out a new weight loss strategy wherein you, the fatty, enter into a legally-enforceable contract that puts a certain amount of money in escrow. If you make your weight loss goal, you get your money back. If you fail, it goes to a charity. Two thoughts:

1) I really hate being treated like a rational economic actor. It's dehumanizing.

2) The incentives on this are backwards. You don't want people to be able to say, "well, I may not have lost the weight, but at least my money is going to a good cause." What you want to do is start the program by having them decide on a sum of money and weight goal, then sit them down with a political questionnaire that measure values and issue intensity. Once that's done, the benign economists choose a cause that is diametrically opposed to your values and in the area that you identified the most attachment to. So, were I to fail in my weight loss attempts, I'd be giving the Chamber of Commerce $500 for their issue outreach program, or something. Then, not only would I be losing money and remaining chunky, but my failure of will would also hurt America.

November 16, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

I agree on the incentives. One guy I know made a deal with himself that he would do better in getting his writing done by promising his ex-wife $10 for every week he didn't meet his words goal. It was very effective.

Posted by: Magenta | Nov 16, 2007 4:49:31 PM

I agree on the incentives. One guy I know made a deal with himself that he would do better in getting his writing done by promising his ex-wife $10 for every week he didn't meet his words goal. It was very effective.

Posted by: Magenta | Nov 16, 2007 4:49:38 PM

Isn't this an issue of sunk costs? If the money is inaccessible under every condition except for one, then wouldn't the rational actor eliminate it from the decision-making process?

For example, say I buy a ticket to a concert, but I'm only allowed to use it if I lose 20 pounds by Friday, otherwise my friend gets to go. That is a pretty obvious sunk cost - unless a magical confluence of craziness occurs, I won't be able to go to the concert. The cost of the ticket has absolutely no impact on whether I attend or not, and thus it's sunk.

Although, I like your reverse incentive scheme, too. Lose 20 pounds by Friday or else my checking account goes to the RSCC. I'd go sign up for lipo.

Posted by: alli | Nov 16, 2007 4:52:22 PM

If I lose the 20 pounds by Friday, can I start putting it back on on Saturday? I mean, anyone can starve him/herself with enough incentive, but pretty much no one who starves him/herself can keep it up. Trust me on this one.

Posted by: bobbo | Nov 16, 2007 5:49:20 PM

It'd be alot more realistic to give it to people who actually lose weight and also put money in escrow. That way, the person who reaches his/her goal loses weight and can make a profit off it. This could make people game the numbers a bit.

Posted by: Bart | Nov 16, 2007 5:50:37 PM

I suppose that there might be a problem of incentive bound, but I don't see it.

Economists really need to wake up to the fact that there are elements to control, other than incentive.

A fat guy, who wants to lose weight, already wants to lose weight. The missing element is not incentive.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder | Nov 16, 2007 5:56:22 PM

Not fair. Do I get a financial award for being hypervigilant about my health in the face of all the economic and time constraints I had every day of my adolescent and adult life? So I financially struggled to buy organic food, spend time cooking (which I hate doing), and exercise without the money for a gym membership to stay thin and healthy, and now the IRRESPONSIBLE ones get the money? Wow, I wish I had saved myself the trouble and gotten fat. Where's my prize?!

Posted by: K.A. | Nov 16, 2007 6:53:58 PM

Uh, K.A., it's not a prize. If they get money back, it's the money they put in in the first place.

Posted by: KCinDC | Nov 16, 2007 7:06:19 PM

I meant that to be read in a joking way anyway, but I, uh, probably should have read the whole post first! I've heard the idea bounced around about tax breaks as an incentive for health improvement (not seriously of course), so I read the first part and that's where my mind immediately went.

Posted by: K.A. | Nov 16, 2007 7:23:55 PM

K.A.: There's often talk of (rather than a 'thin' tax credit) a fat tax. Certainly, health insurance companies could institute higher premiums for customers with a >30 BMI, for example. (It's my understanding that life insurance companies already do.)

Posted by: Klug | Nov 16, 2007 7:43:01 PM

It wouldn't work. Money is only valuable as a means to sexy naked ladies anyway, and sexy naked ladies are a likely consequence of losing weight as it is, and still people are fat.

Posted by: Jason C. | Nov 17, 2007 12:07:55 AM

K.A.: There's often talk of (rather than a 'thin' tax credit) a fat tax. Certainly, health insurance companies could institute higher premiums for customers with a >30 BMI, for example. (It's my understanding that life insurance companies already do.)

Well, they could - or they could base premiums on the actual risk factors associated with obesity rather than a crude measure like BMI...

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Nov 17, 2007 3:34:41 AM

As a person who has had a weight problem his entire life, the financial motive has little, if anything, to do with it. If economists are really interested in the market forces of obesity, let's go the Reagan route and do supply-side economics. You can't make people lose weight by making them that much more miserable for it- all that does is give me an incentive to give up. And let's not forget, once you attach a monetary value to something, now the person has the option of opting out of the money. (those of you with kids, try this- force your kids to do their chores. Once they get the hang of it, start linking their allowance to whether their chores are done. They'll opt out of the money and chores altogether.)

Make gym membership fees tax-deductible. I know I can't afford one.

Tax credits to give businesses an incentive to allow their employees (especially low-wage employees) six hours a week in paid time off for the express purpose of exercising. Take it from wal-mart, healthier employees means lower insurance costs.

End subsidies on corn. Corn is too cheap- and it makes high fructose corn syrup cheaper than actual food. Not to mentioned more fattening meats and dairy products. Pour that subsidy money into locally grown organic fruits and vegetables to give all those poor farmers a way to maintain their livelihoods. Use the subsidies to make the healthy stuff cheap instead of the crap we eat. Ditto for wheat. I'm still on the fence about soy.

Tax breaks to businesses who manage to sell more healthy stuff than fattening crap. When McDonald's realizes it is in their financial interest to sell more salads than fried chicken-like sunstances, you'll see the end of McNuggets getting all the advertising.

Tax breaks to insurance companies that REQUIRE twice-yearly doctor's visits. That way it really is a patient's choice to retain their unhealthy lifestyles- those who ignore the problem until it gets too big to fix will have to face down their doctor's disapproving looks (you'd be surprised how motivating that can be.) This will also allow people to catch their diabetes, tumors, and STDs long before they become impossible and expensive to receive treatment.

Require calorie counts and fat content on menus. Yes, more people will choose the skim milk when they find out a regular latte has 770 calories.

I know not all of these ideas are purely Reaganomical, but the larger point stands. Losing weight requires an investment of time and money, making it more expensive or incentive driven on it's own. The deck is already stacked against those of us who need to lose weight, it's time to reshuffle, not up the ante.

Posted by: Dameon | Nov 17, 2007 1:48:49 PM

Actually, paying a huge up front fee for my gym encouraged me to work out more often. It came with trainer sessions too, so I had to use it or lose it.

Posted by: bago | Nov 18, 2007 4:59:50 PM

It is so alarming that the obesity is fast growing. It is also a global epidemic that i think tends to more health problems. Good news is everybody can lose weight effective & safe thru CELLULAR NUTRITION PROGRAM. Its a low controlled calorie but high in protein. Im confident of our company because its a NUTRITIONAL COMPANY not A DRUG COMPANY. We also have a disclaimer (IT JUST MAKES SENSE THAT IF WE FEED OUR BODY THE COMPLETE NUTRITION ON A DAILY BASIS OUR BODY WILL HEAL BY ITSELF.) We also back up by doctors who are experts in human nutrition & obesity. I hope this will be an eye opener to all who wants to lose weight & please don`t just ignore it. What if nobody care to do this? What if this will be an answered prayer for all of you who are concern... Please if anybody of you who interested please bear with me, im willing to help you out of your unwanted fats & get your ideal shape that you all wanted.

Posted by: hilda carpio | Nov 27, 2007 8:26:54 AM

It is so alarming that the obesity is fast growing. It is also a global epidemic that i think tends to more health problems. Good news is everybody can lose weight effective & safe thru CELLULAR NUTRITION PROGRAM. Its a low controlled calorie but high in protein. Im confident of our company because its a NUTRITIONAL COMPANY not A DRUG COMPANY. We also have a disclaimer (IT JUST MAKES SENSE THAT IF WE FEED OUR BODY THE COMPLETE NUTRITION ON A DAILY BASIS OUR BODY WILL HEAL BY ITSELF.) We also back up by doctors who are experts in human nutrition & obesity. I hope this will be an eye opener to all who wants to lose weight & please don`t just ignore it. What if nobody care to do this? What if this will be an answered prayer for all of you who are concern... Please if anybody of you who interested please bear with me, im willing to help you out of your unwanted fats & get your ideal shape that you all wanted.

Posted by: hilda carpio | Nov 27, 2007 8:30:39 AM

It is so alarming that the obesity is fast growing. It is also a global epidemic that i think tends to more health problems. Good news is everybody can lose weight effective & safe thru CELLULAR NUTRITION PROGRAM. Its a low controlled calorie but high in protein. Im confident of our company because its a NUTRITIONAL COMPANY not A DRUG COMPANY. We also have a disclaimer (IT JUST MAKES SENSE THAT IF WE FEED OUR BODY THE COMPLETE NUTRITION ON A DAILY BASIS OUR BODY WILL HEAL BY ITSELF.) We also back up by doctors who are experts in human nutrition & obesity. I hope this will be an eye opener to all who wants to lose weight & please don`t just ignore it. What if nobody care to do this? What if this will be an answered prayer for all of you who are concern... Please if anybody of you who interested please bear with me, im willing to help you out of your unwanted fats & get your ideal shape that you all wanted.

Posted by: hilda carpio | Nov 27, 2007 8:30:56 AM

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