Financial incentives increase participants’ physical activity in two research studies

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According to two new studies from Western University being presented Thursday and Friday at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s (SBM’s) 39th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions, financial incentives can help adults maintain physical activity habits.

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For decades, one of the biggest knocks on financial health incentive interventions was that when incentives are withdrawn people revert to baseline behaviours. This is the first meta-analysis to our knowledge to suggest that a short incentive intervention may promote sustained physical activity.

Two new studies from Western University indicate that financial incentives can help adults maintain physical activity habits.

The research is being presented Thursday and Friday at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s (SBM’s) 39th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions.

Marc Mitchell, who recently joined Western’s Faculty of Health Sciences from the University Health Network, is considered a rising star in the research areas of cardiovascular risk and rehabilitation, specifically in terms of how modest financial incentives can bolster positive health behaviour change.

In the study, Financial incentives for physical activity in adults: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis, Mitchell and his collaborators found incentive programs increased physical activity for interventions of short durations, but more importantly, these incentives also promoted sustained physical activity post-intervention once they were removed.

“This is contrary to what has been previously suggested,” explains Mitchell. “For decades, one of the biggest knocks on financial health incentive interventions was that when incentives are withdrawn people revert to baseline behaviours. This is the first meta-analysis to our knowledge to suggest that a short incentive intervention may promote sustained physical activity.”

A second study, Effectiveness of a scalable incentive-based mHealth intervention to promote sustained physical activity in two Canadian provinces: A cohort analysis of the Carrot Rewards app, showed that the impact of very small financial incentives on objectively-measured physical activity held a small but significant effect overall (4 per cent average daily step count increase over 32-weeks versus the baseline in the 15,000+ users assessed) with a more pronounced effect (34 per cent increase) among the more than 7,500 sedentary users. These results underscore the potential public health impact of using very small incentives ($0.04 CAD per day) to stimulate physical activity for longer periods (greater than 6 months-the theoretical definition of behaviour maintenance), particularly among higher-risk sedentary populations.

“Until recently, financial health incentive programs have shown promise but little potential for scalability given the cost of the rewards. This study adds to the understanding of how incentives can be delivered in ways that are not prohibitively costly,” says Mitchell. “Providing immediate rewards in the form of loyalty points for personalized daily step goal achievement, which are measured and monitored by smartphones, appears to have encouraged physical activity on a population-scale for 8 months, especially for higher-risk sedentary individuals.”

Mitchell is a co-founder of the Carrot Rewards app. Co-authors from the University of British Columbia approved the abstract and interpretation. The Carrot Rewards initiative was made possible in part through funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The research team will present the first study Thursday at 6:15 p.m. CT during a paper session at the SBM Annual Meeting, being held in New Orleans at the Hilton Riverside New Orleans. The second study will be presented Friday at 10:45 a.m. CT during a paper session. Mitchell is an SBM member.

ABOUT WESTERN
Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

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ABOUT THE SOCIETY OF BEHAVIORAL MEDICINE
The Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) is a 2,400-member organization of scientific researchers, clinicians and educators. They study interactions among behavior, biology and the environment, and translate findings into interventions that improve the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities (http://www.sbm.org).

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Lindsay Bullock
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