In the March 15, 2016 issue of Journal of General Internal Medicine,  UPenn PRC Director Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, UPenn PRC researcher David Asch, MD, MBA, and co-authors reported on a study to compare the effectiveness of individual versus team-based financial incentives to increase physical activity.

304 employees from a Philadelphia-based organization formed 76 four-member teams. Participants received daily feedback on a daily 7,000 step goal during intervention and follow-up periods. A participant on a winning team was eligible for a $50 award if he/she met the goal (individual incentive), a $50 award only if all four team members met the goal (team incentive), or a $20 award if he/she met the goal individually and $10 more for each of three teammates that also met the goal (combined incentive.)  The control group received no other incentive. For the three financial incentive groups, every-other-day drawings were held during the intervention period.

Participants in the combined incentive group achieved their goal 35 percent of the time, nearly double the success rate for the control and team incentive groups (18 and 17 percent, respectively), and still higher than the average success rate for participants rewarded based on individual performance (25 percent). Compared to the control group, participants receiving the combined incentive had 1,446 more steps per day.

“The findings of our study shed light on how financial incentive programs can be used to change people’s behavior towards better health, and how physical activity interventions and wellness programs can be better designed,” said senior author Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, a professor of Medicine and Health Care Management, and director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics. “People are accountable to themselves but also to others and, in this vein, it may not be surprising that the incentive that provided rewards based on individual and was most effective.”


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