New research from Cambridge University, recently published in the journal Preventative Medicine, has cast a shadow of doubt over the viability of government schemes that encourage people to get healthy with financial incentives or bribes.

The research by Cambridge University and King’s College London reviewed 34 studies from around the world in which financial incentives were offered as a reward for healthy living. These included 22 schemes which offered rewards for giving up smoking, eight which offered incentives for weight loss and exercise, and eight which paid people just to exercise.

The findings show that the only incentive-based initiatives which had any real impact were schemes to tackle smoking, with the largest effect found among pregnant women and people from deprived groups. However, even in these cases any positive effects ceased within three months of payments ending.

“Our study is the first systematic review to provide an overall estimate of the impact of financial incentives across habitual health related behaviours and to focus explicitly on effects after the incentives stop.”

“The offer of financial incentives does not seem to lead to changes that are sustained beyond a few months after their removal.” – Dr Eleni Mantzari the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health at King’s College London.

Recently there has been an influx of numerous reward schemes in the UK aimed at encouraging people to live healthier lives. One scheme offered free swimming to smokers who give up for at least four weeks and another saw 4,000 new mothers enrolled in national pilot schemes which pay out £200 of shopping vouchers to those who choose to breastfeed.

In October last year new plans were revealed by the NHS to encourage British people to lose weight by offering them gift vouchers and monetary incentives, under a new plan to reduce the financial burden of obesity on the national health system. More than two thirds of adults in the UK are either clinically overweight or obese. The plans were part of a wider strategy to reduce pressure on the NHS – obesity related illnesses currently cost more than £5 billion per year. The plan additionally included the tax break incentives to companies who encourage their staff to lose weight. The NHS has also funded memberships for dieters to join clubs which offer up to £425 for losing weight.

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