Worth your weight in gold

Worth your weight in gold

Recent news of a United Arab Emirates weight-loss challenge tied to a solid-gold incentive makes me envious of Emiratis _ the authorities there clearly care for their people's health. Dubai's municipal officials are offering their people a gramme of gold for each kilogramme shed in a 30-day challenge.

The biggest loser will win a gold coin worth about US$5,445, roughly 170,000 baht, according to the local news. There is no limit on the golden payout but participants must lose at least 2kg by Aug 16. Participants who have excessive weight are allowed to join the campaign and have to stick to healthy weight-loss methods under the supervision of healthcare providers.

This campaign encourages people there to whittle down their weight and lead a healthier lifestyle, but the reason there is an official incentive is because more than half of them are overweight.

Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows that it's difficult to keep up the momentum for the long haul. People are motivated differently. Some of them are motivated by rewards while many (me included) are moved by fear. I have tried to lose weight and keep it off as I am afraid falling sick will prevent me from an active lifestyle.

Monetary incentives can help us get a buck out of banging the punching bags and pounding the treadmill. Why does that method make people join a weight-loss challenge? The answer is quite simple: money matters.

We know that we are going to have to log our results to be rewarded at the end. That gives us an extra push. If someone paid you to put down the cake and walk longer, would you? By doing this weight is lost, money gained.

At current prices, 1g of gold is worth about US$45 or roughly 1,400 baht. Worth trying? Let's say we lost 4kg by the end of the challenge, we would get about 6,000 baht. That's cool. Paying people to lose weight may be more effective if combined with competition and group effort. The American reality television show The Biggest Loser, which featured overweight contestants attempting to shed kilos and fight for a cash prize in a team structure, is an illustration of the success of combining these methods.

On the show, when a team member in a group didn't lose weight while other members did, he or she would have been unhappy while watching others share the spoils. That drives all team members to work harder in order to lose weight and celebrate a job well done together.

I found that group effort and a competitive spirit can keep my friends and I motivated when we created a little friendly competition in wellness activities at a gym. We set our own goals. We shared what has and hasn't worked during our journeys, new tricks to make our fitness goals achieved and even celebrate our progress. And the emotional support given to each other has made our goals work. My buddy spurs on my enthusiasm and is my best cheerleader for every step and every rep I take. When I slip up, she cheers me up to get back in the saddle and start again tomorrow.

The downside of Dubai's golden loser campaign, in my view, is that there is no indication of whether participants have to give the gold back to officials if they regain much of the weight once the challenge is over. Who knows, maybe the participants will spend the gold prize on fast food and return to unhealthy eating habits and slacking off on the exercise. If so, the financial incentive would backfire. And maintaining weight loss can be more difficult than losing it as the mechanism of keeping it off is more complicated than just burning calories.

Solving the obesity problem requires long-term approaches and a change in lifestyle, more than just a short-term financial incentive. To help their people achieve sustainable weight loss and make the use of the gold incentive cost-effective, Dubai's authorities may have to come up with more creative strategies in the future.

Well, it would be good if our government or a major company could launch a weight loss campaign or other challenge and reward us based on weight control and cholesterol levels to encourage good health. I think the concept is good for the country's public health. And it's good for companies: when employees are healthy, they have fewer sick days and productivity is improved. Healthy staff can also help companies reduce costs, and are less of a burden on public health care. There is no time to wait.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok

Life reporter

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