Cash Contracts Are Best at Improving Workers' Health

People like rewards. Researchers found people are more likely to participate in programs as well as change their behavior if there's a little money coming their way.

Cash Contracts Are Best at Improving Workers' Health

Health care providers are experimenting with a new way of trying to get people to change their unhealthy habits and quit smoking: by offering them cash. Researchers, of late, have been finding cash incentives are a good way to incentivize people to kick their unhealthy habits. Take this recent study, led by Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and medical ethics and health policy.

They enrolled 2,538 participants across the United States in an eight-month program to help them quit smoking. They were split into five groups in which participants would receive rewards based on individual performance or group performance, be charged $150 up-front with subsequent matching funds, compete with other participants' deposits and matching funds, or be provided free information on how to quit smoking.

Halpern reported the results in a press release, saying:

"We found that the reward-based programs were more effective than deposits overall because more people accepted them in the first place."

Many more participants were willing to stick around (about 90 percent) for the reward program than they were for the deposit-based programs (14 percent). However, he continued on to say:

"… among people who would have accepted any program we offered them, the deposit contracts were twice as effective as rewards, and five times more effective than free information and nicotine-replacement therapy, likely because they leveraged people's natural aversion to losing money. With such unprecedented rates of success, the trick now is to figure out how to get more people to sign up — to feel like they have skin in the game."

Senior author Kevin Volpp chimed in, saying that companies could start thinking about offering reward incentives for employees to stop unhealthy habits and take up healthier ones. He explained:

"When compared to the estimated $4,000 to $6,000 incremental annual cost associated with employing a smoker over a non-smoker, a $700 to $800 incentive paid only to those who quit seems well worth the cost."

The trick for researchers now will be how to optimize these reward-based programs to tune them for different behaviors and kinds of people.

Gretchen Rubin says that there are 21 strategies for changing your bad habits into good ones, but the best kind incorporate treats.

Massive 'Darth Vader' isopod found lurking in the Indian Ocean

The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.

A close up of Bathynomus raksasa

SJADE 2018
Surprising Science
  • A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
  • It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
  • The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
Keep reading Show less

Is it ethical to pay people to get vaccinated?

It could lead to a massive uptake in those previously hesitant.

Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

A financial shot in the arm could be just what is needed for Americans unsure about vaccination.

Keep reading Show less

Every 27.5 million years, the Earth’s heart beats catastrophically

Geologists discover a rhythm to major geologic events.

Credit: desertsolitaire/Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • It appears that Earth has a geologic "pulse," with clusters of major events occurring every 27.5 million years.
  • Working with the most accurate dating methods available, the authors of the study constructed a new history of the last 260 million years.
  • Exactly why these cycles occur remains unknown, but there are some interesting theories.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Galactic wind from early universe detected

Researchers discovered a galactic wind from a supermassive black hole that sheds light on the evolution of galaxies.