Men can lose more weight than women. Wanna bet?

For decades, the weight loss industry has focused on women. But that may be changing. Jenny Craig hired Seinfeld star Jason Alexander and Weight Watchers has NBA legend Charles Barkley (in drag, no less) to show that real men can lose weight.
Despite the celebrities, though, men still account for less than 15 percent of participants in commercial weight-loss programs. The problem is the way the message is being delivered. Telling men that being overweight or obese increases their risk of developing diabetes and a whole host of other potentially deadly symptoms doesn’t really work. So what does?
Money and competition. In fact, according to a new study conducted by HealthyWage (, men shed pounds more effectively than women when money and bragging rights are on the line. It turns out that weight loss wagering is an extraordinarily successful way to motivate both genders to lose weight, men are more than four times more likely than women to win a weight loss “bet.” In the study, 63% of male participants in a weight loss betting program had success, losing 10% or more of their body weight, compared to versus 15% of women who achieving the same level of success. And not a single guy had to wear a dress.
Here’s how the study worked. Employees at a top-tier Fortune 50 company were given the opportunity to make a weight loss wager—to ante up $100 to win $400 if they lost 10% of their starting body weight within six months. Of the total participants, 63% of the male subjects won the “bet” and were paid $400; 15% of female subjects also won the $400; consequently, more than a quarter—29%—of all program participants in total won the bet and the cash. Notably, nearly half—49%—of all program participants reported losing at least 5% of their starting weight.  The full “Results and Conclusions” of the study are accessible online at
“While it’s no surprise that men respond to competitive, game-like scenarios, this innate quality is now proven to be particularly favorable and advantageous in competitive, prize-driven weight loss endeavors,” said HealthyWage co-founder David Roddenberry.  “These study findings validate that weight loss wagering programs like our ‘10% Challenge’ are not only highly rewarding for both genders both physically and financially, they’re also especially effective for men since such efforts tap into the male drive for competition and a desire to win.“
“While companies are increasingly offering weight management solutions to their employees to save on health care costs, all too often women comprise the majority of weight loss program participants,” Roddenberry notes.  “Not surprising, since most of these programs do not have a ‘betting’ or other competitive or cash prize component.  As such, hundreds of large U.S. employers are wisely supplementing current efforts with HealthyWage’s plug-and-play programs to better engage the men in their staff pool and uniquely motivate both genders to improve their health and wellness.”
The study put to the test other academic research findings and industry initiatives that have proven behavioral economic-based interventions are extremely powerful tools for helping both men and women accomplish behaviors that are in their self-interest but which, due to self-control problems, they have difficulty accomplishing.  The same decision errors that often result in self-destructive behavior can be used instead to help people engage in beneficial behaviors, such as weight loss.  In fact, other recent research has shown that weight loss incentives “supercharge” weight loss interventions, with one widely-cited study revealing that participants in a weight intervention program who were given a financial incentive were three times more likely to achieve a defined weight loss goal than a control group that did not receive a financial incentive.
John Cawley, an economist at Cornell University who studies the economics of obesity, commented on the findings, “I’m excited to see what companies are doing to find win-win solutions in which individuals can achieve their weight loss goals and health care costs can be reduced.  The results from the HealthyWage weight loss bet illustrate how economic incentives can be used to promote healthy behaviors.  The gender differences they find raise the interesting question of how to tailor these sorts of incentives to what works best for different groups.”
Male study participant David M. underscores the motivation boost a cash incentive can provide, having noted, “I already had a goal of losing at least 10% of my weight. Having the HealthyWage program was an extra boost. I think the cash prize did have an impact. More so, it helped me achieve my goal within a time period. I was more likely to stick to my fitness regimen knowing that the weigh-out period was just around the corner.” Female participant Carol F. also cites the power of the financial wager, commenting, “When I was really struggling to get a jump start, I thought in terms of the $400. For example, was that piece of cake worth $400? If it wasn’t, then I didn’t eat it. Once I was on a roll and feeling really good and seeing success, the money became less important. I told everyone that, no matter how it turned out, it was the best $100 I had ever spent.” For male participant Curtis H., his success was all about the money, having stated, “The cash prize totally incented me to stay on track with losing weight.”
The study is important in light of the health incentives trend, including the recent health care bill Affordable Care Act (Section 2705), stipulating that, starting in 2014, employers can use measures such as BMI, to adjust health insurance premiums based on outcome-based wellness incentives by up to 30%—up from the current 20% level.  In addition, Arizona recently proposed charging obese residents on Medicaid $50 as a financial penalty for being overweight.  The proposition is currently under review with similar consideration being given in other states.

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