News: Can you be bribed to exercise more?

Would I walk to work for a gift certificate? You bet I would. (I like to shop, don’t judge me.)


Would I walk to work for a gift certificate? You bet I would. (I like to shop, don’t judge me.) But will this incentive scheme work on everyone?

Britain’s Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced Tuesday an incentive program to get kids to walk to school in exchange for Topshop and movie vouchers. It reminds me a bit of the school reading clubs I was in as a kid, where you would read 10 books and get a gold star on your name for all of the class to see. But according to the Daily Mail, this is just an early phase of a program to combat obesity and promote weight loss, and eventually it will be developed for adults.

Here are the reported plans:

‘ “Giving teenage girls shopping vouchers worth £45 in order to have a jab [shot] which protects against a sexually-transmitted infection;

‘ in Manchester, overweight parents get supermarket-style loyalty cards to attend keep-fit classes, weight loss clubs or even go for a run in the park;

‘ cocaine addicts receiving hundreds of pounds in London to kick the habit;

‘ pregnant women being rewarded for not smoking; and

‘ in Kent, patients can win £425 if they lose weight and keep it off for a set period of time.”

There will be challenges to making such a program successful. The rewards will have to be of value to all people. Money might be the best bet, but there’s no guarantee that it will be spent on things that enable a healthy lifestyle, which is the whole point, after all. Dinners out to celebrate might be counterproductive.

Also, unlike getting a needle or quitting smoking for nine months, being fit is a life-long commitment. Once you remove the reward, being active is once again (what it should never be) a chore.

And where the reading programs work and this is likely to fail is that gold stars teach pride, not bribery. Plus, stickers are cheap and this program won’t be, reports the paper, stating that ‘critics branded the bribes as the nanny state at its worst, saying it was wrong to spend scarce resources on such schemes when people were being denied life-extending cancer drugs.’ And, of course, it alienates those physically unable to walk.

It should work ideally. But in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be obesity’or cancer, for that matter. But it does bring up an important question: What would it take to motivate you to exercise more?


Related articles:
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5 ways you may be sabotaging yourself
5 ways to make lifestyle changes stick