National Institute of Health Spends $686,350 on Pointless Obesity Study
The US government is legendary for wasting money on pointless projects. The latest example? The National Institute of Health is spending $686,350 on a study that will pay obese teenagers to stop over-eating.
More specifically the study, conducted by the University of Minnesota, is trying to determine whether paying teens to drink health shakes (like Slimfast) instead of eating is an effective tool for losing weight—basically, can you bribe youths to eat healthy?
The grant justifies the study on the grounds that:
Severe obesity is the fastest growing category of pediatric obesity, with a reported prevalence near 6 [percent] in the United States… Unfortunately, conventional treatment approaches rarely result in sufficient weight loss in adolescents with severe obesity; therefore, innovative and effective strategies are desperately needed.
The financial incentive model has been used successfully in adult obesity trials to address suboptimal adherence to lifestyle modification therapy and improves weight loss outcomes… 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.
There’s no question that obesity is a problem in America, and given the enormous healthcare costs associated with obesity (ranging from an increased risk of heart attacks, to diabetes, to elevated risks of some cancers) it makes sense to look for a solution. But is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars?
No. This study is a complete waste of money. Why? Mainly because we won’t learn anything new: multiple studies have already been done on the subject. As the Washington Free Beacon reports:
A 2012 Canadian study details several obesity payment programs used by other countries. The paper cites the United Kingdom’s “nudge unit,” which started a program called “Pounds for Pounds.”
The program rewarded obese Brits with up to £425, roughly $577, if they maintained weight loss for 6 to 12 months.
“Six hundred obese participants, with an average starting weight of 218 pounds, lost an average of 14 pounds in six months and 29 pounds over 12 months,” according to the paper. The payments amounted to between $19 and $41 for every pound lost.
The 2012 study concluded that short-term payment incentive programs are not as effective as those that continue to pay people for losing weight for a long period of time.
A third study, costing $1,560,895, is analyzing the difference between paying obese adults directly for losing weight versus randomly selecting a lottery winner for individuals enrolled in its weight-loss program.
And beyond the pointless duplication of rather facile research, we already know that social pressure is a far more powerful tool for weight loss than is financial incentive. In fact, there is a very strong, and proven, connection between social circles and obesity.
The key to getting people healthy is to influence their networks—this is not only far more effective, but also far cheaper than paying people to drink Slimfast shakes. In fact, the process was occurring naturally in young people until the emergence of the fat-acceptance movement.
Perhaps the government should simply stop telling people that being fat is socially acceptable, rather than shelling out money on pointless studies.