A University of Minnesota study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will spend nearly $700,000 to analyze whether teens will replace some meals with liquid shakes in order to lose weight, using financial gain as an incentive to do so. In essence, the study will pay obese teenagers to lose weight.
The study, which began earlier this year, was funded by a grant through the NIH, under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The project, titled, “Enhancing Weight Loss With Financial Incentives in Teens With Severe Obesity,” was granted $686,350.
“Severe obesity is the fastest growing category of pediatric obesity, with a reported prevalence near 6 [percent] in the United States,” the grant for the project states. “Unfortunately, conventional treatment approaches rarely result in sufficient weight loss in adolescents with severe obesity; therefore, innovative and effective strategies are desperately needed.”
According to the grant, the financial incentive model has worked well in adult obesity trials. “Although yet to be investigated as a weight loss intervention among adolescents, financial incentives have been shown to improve many health-related behaviors in teenagers.”
The trial will take 142 obese teens, and, over the course of a year, researchers will pay the obese teenagers to lose weight using “meal replacement therapy,” or substituting liquid shakes for meals, as a means of weight loss.
“This research targets a significant public health problem, will utilize an innovative treatment concept and approach, and will generate new knowledge to guide selection of treatment type and intensification, ultimately exerting a powerful and sustained influence on the field of pediatric obesity,” the grant states.
According to project leader Aaron Kelly, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, the study is using a “deception design.”
“This means that participants randomized to the control group will not know they are in a trial of financial incentives until after they are done,” he said. “This is IRB (Institutional Review Board) approved but we don’t want to highlight the true nature of the study too much for risk of contaminating the design.”
The NIH has funded similar studies, involving paying patients to be healthier. One study pays low-income pregnant women not to smoke, a program that has reportedly cost taxpayers $3,639,417 since 2013.
Other studies, like one from the University of California, Los Angeles, that cost $1,432,544, focuses on obese adults, paying them to shed pounds. Another seeks to find out if paying adults directly is more effective than entering them in a drawing for a prize. That study cost $1,560,895.
The University of Minnesota teen weight loss study will be administered by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
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