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Cash incentives encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles

People are more likely to change their lifestyle and adopt healthy behaviours when offered a small financial incentive, research has concluded.

The study looked at more than 30,000 participants, who were set challenges such as quitting smoking, and what effect incentives had on them.

The team from Newcastle University looked at 16 previous studies and found that as little as £3 could make people up to 50% more likely to change their behaviour, when compared with usual care or no intervention.

Financial penalties for not succeeding in the task were also found to work but they concluded that larger incentives were no more likely than smaller ones to be effective.

“We were surprised at just how strong the effect was”

Emma Giles

Newcastle University research associate Dr Emma Giles said: “This was an interesting finding and we were surprised at just how strong the effect was. People who took part in these reward or penalty schemes were much more likely to adopt healthy behaviours, and if they continued they would have more chance of remaining healthy for longer.

“Many studies used vouchers for supermarkets or similar things rather than actual cash. This might be a more acceptable way of implementing this.”

Emma Giles

Emma Giles

The team said they were not clear if the effects would continue after the rewards had stopped and said more work needed to be done to calculate whether the policy would actually save the NHS money in the long run.

“It is about nudging people to healthier behaviours”

Jean Adams


Dr Jean Adams, the university’s senior lecturer in public health, said: “We were surprised how few studies we found which had looked at the impact financial incentives can have.

“At this stage we don’t know the right level that incentives should be at, so it is not clear if this sort of scheme would save the NHS and country money.

“We try all kinds of techniques to try to help people to quit smoking or otherwise live healthy lives, so why not try this? It is about nudging people to healthier behaviours. There is a chance this could save the taxpayer money in the long run.”

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