Financial incentives have been supported by the UK and U.S. governments to promote development of healthy lifestyles. Although, evidence to support the use of incentives for changing physical activity (PA) behavior is sparse. With this in mind, the authors conducted this study to investigate the effectiveness of financial incentives to increase PA in adults in the workplace. They used employees (n=406) in a workplace setting in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. Using a loyalty card to accrue points and earn rewards, participants (n=199) in the Incentive Group monitored their PA levels and received financial incentives (retail vouchers) for minutes of PA completed during a 12-week intervention period. Participants (n=207) in the comparison group used their loyalty card to self-monitor their PA levels but were not able to earn points or obtain incentives (No Incentive Group). The primary outcome was minutes of PA objectively measured using a novel PA tracking system at baseline (April 2011); Week 6 (June 2011); and Week 12 (July 2011). Other outcomes, including a self-report measure of PA, were collected at baseline, Week 12, and 6 months (October 2011). Data were analyzed in June 2012. No substantial differences between groups were found for primary or secondary outcomes at the 12-week and 6-month assessments. Participants in the Incentive Group recorded 17.52 minutes of PA/week (95% CI=12.49, 22.56) compared to 16.63 minutes/week (95% CI=11.76, 21.51) in the No Incentive Group at Week 12 (p=0.59). At 6 months, those in the Incentive Group recorded 26.18 minutes of PA/week (95% CI=20.06, 32.29) compared to 24.00 minutes/week (95% CI=17.45, 30.54) in the No Incentive Group (p=0.45).
The authors of this study found that financial incentives did not encourage participants to undertake more PA than self-monitoring PA. This study adds to the evidence base and has important implications for increasing participation in physical activity and nurturing links with the business sector.