A participant in a study, which examines the effect of financial incentives on getting people to lose weight, shares her experience

For as long as I remember, I’ve been fighting a losing battle with my weight. I’m 37 this year and, at one point, I weighed as much as 84kg. Gym memberships, fad diets, exercise, dance classes – you name it, I’ve tried it. But, each and every time, I’ve floundered and failed.

Advertisements that sell quick and painless ways to lose weight are common. What if one of these programmes offers to pay us to lose the pounds? Would that motivate us?

Trial on Incentives for Obesity (TRIO) study

The Trial on Incentives for Obesity (TRIO) study, a collaboration between the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, does just that. It offers financial incentives for meeting weight-loss and exercise goals. The 12-month study aims to test the extent to which economic incentives influence weight loss. Participants undergo a subsidised four-month Obesity Management (OBM) programme at SGH’s Lifestyle and Fitness Enhancement (LIFE) Centre​. Some of them will be placed in a control group, while others will join the incentive group. Members of the incentive group will get cash rewards for meeting the programme’s objectives.

To get into the programme, I first had to complete an online questionnaire to determine my suitability. The terms of the study were explained to me and a lifestyle questionnaire was completed. My height and weight were recorded (I weighed 77kg at the start of the programme). I was given a three-day food diary to fill in and a pedometer to record the number of steps I walked each day.

What happens in the TRIO programme​?

​The programme began with an appointment with a doctor, followed by a session with a dietitian. I completed another questionnaire administered by the SGH LIFE Centre, which probed my eating habits, psychological and emotional triggers for binge eating, motivators and limiters, as well as external factors which affect my lifestyle, such as my home environment and family support structure. I came out of the sessions enlightened and armed with motivational tips, a recommended meal plan and guidelines on foods I should take or avoid.

Gym sessions with a physiotherapist followed. My​ fitness level was tested before a series of cardio and resistance exercises was conducted. There were four sessions and the intensity of each exercise increased progressively, depending on my level of fitness. The gym sessions were very useful. I learnt simple exercises that I could do at home and around the neighbourhood. The sessions also boosted my confidence in my fitness. Since then, I’ve done a three-day trek in Vietnam and a 3.5km walk-and-jog in Singapore. I’ve also signed up for a 5km walk-and-jog.

My competitive streak began to reveal itself. I constantly checked my pedometer to see how much of my daily target (8,000 steps a day for the first month, followed by 10,000 for the remaining 11 months in the study) I had achieved and how much farther I had to walk. I was astonished to find out that I was walking only 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. Someone who walks less than 5,000 steps a day is considered to be leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Read on for tips to stay fit and information about the TRIO study.

Ref: S13