Giving Incentives for Healthy Behavior

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Employers can use a variety of “carrots” to promote healthy behaviors. Some keys to success: Tie rewards to behavior change—not to weight. And don’t penalize or stigmatize employees who don’t reach a healthy weight.

Here is a summary of recommendations for worksite obesity prevention incentives, based on a review of expert guidance from the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, The Obesity Society, and others. For more detailed guidance on these recommendations and ideas for putting them into practice, explore the source list and the links to other resources.

Tools for Healthy Behavior Incentives (tools_for_healthy_behavior_incentives_two.jpg)

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Read and print the complete list of worksite obesity prevention recommendations.

Offer incentives to promote healthy behaviors, such as participation in physical activity. Types of incentives include (1,2,3)

  • Financial
  • Days off
  • Employee recognition
  • Medical plan enhancements, such as coverage for weight loss programs and lower co–pays and premiums
Offer incentives for using preventive services, such as BMI screenings or health risk assessments (4,5)
Offer free or reduced price access to exercise clubs or gyms (2,5,6,7)
Do not use weight status as the basis for incentives or penalties (2)
Avoid stigmatizing overweight or obese employees (2,8)

Worksite Incentives—Source List

1. American Medical Association. National Summit on Obesity: Building a Plan to Reduce Obesity in AmericaOpens in New Window. Executive Summary and Key Recommendations.; 2004.

2. The Obesity Society. The Obesity Society Position on Employer Incentive and Penalties Related to BMI and Weight Loss 2011Opens in New Window. Accessed February 2, 2012.

3. World Health Organization, World Economic Forum. Preventing Noncommunicable Diseases in the Workplace through Diet and Physical ActivityOpens in New Window: WHO/World Economic Forum Report of a Joint Event; 2008.

4. National Governors Association. Creating Healthy States: Actions for GovernorsOpens in New Window. 2005. Accessed February 2, 2012.

5. Levi J, Vinter S, St. Laurent R, Segal LM. F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in AmericaOpens in New Window2008: Trust for America’s Health; 2008.

6. Carnethon M, Whitsel LP, Franklin BA, et al. Worksite wellness programs for cardiovascular disease prevention: a policy statement from the American Heart Association. CirculationOpens in New Window. 2009;120:1725–41.

7. Lee V, Mikkelsen, L, Srikantharajah, J, Cohen, L. Promising Strategies for Creating Healthy Eating and Active Living EnvironmentsOpens in New Window. Oakland: Prevention Institute; 2008.

8. World Health Organization. The Challenge of Obesity in the WHO European Region and the Strategies for ResponseOpens in New Window: World Health Organization; 2007.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.

Terms of Use

The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.