Getting paid to lose weight

Tuesday, January 1st 2008, 6:05 pm
By: News 9


Extra cash would motivate some to stick with those New Year's resolutions to quit smoking or lose weight. Some companies with rising health insurance costs are starting to offer cash incentives to their employees to get healthy.

Stefanie Chiras' company pays her to develop computer memory sub-systems and pays her extra to eat right.

"Having work sponsor it makes you kind of feel like someone is buying into it," IBM Researcher Stefanie Chiras said. "And, then certainly the cash at the end of the day is an incentive."

Chiras receives an additional $150 in her paycheck for tracking her eating habits online and losing weight.

"When I reach for that next unhealthy thing, I think, ‘Oh, but I have to log it in to the tool'," Chiras said.

IBM launched its voluntary wellness incentive program four years ago, handing each employee up to $300 a year for completing healthy eating, exercise and preventative care programs.

Health care bills for corporate America are skyrocketing. Each year, IBM spends about $2 billion globally and obese workers are driving up the cost.

Researchers say offering cash incentives to employees is actually a low cost way to motivate them to cut out the fat and get on the treadmill.

"It is essentially costless for the firm," Eric Finkelstein, author of "The Fattening of America" said. "If nobody loses any weight, then they don't send any money."

So many IBM employees have lost weight, stopped smoking or otherwise improved their health that the company has paid out $130 million, but it's saving about three times as much.

This year, IBM also plans to give workers money if their children develop healthier eating habits.

"Frankly speaking, we don't know why everybody wouldn't do this because it really does make a great deal of sense," Dr. Paul Grundy, Director of Strategic Initiatives, IBM said.

Stefanie credits the company policy with getting her back into shape after having a baby a year and a half ago. She says she'll spend some of her extra cash to take her daughter on her first trip to the zoo.