Experts have linked obesity to different health problems, including an increased risk of death, and many programs aimed at managing weight gain have sprouted over the years. A new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that introducing financial incentives or fines might also help reverse the condition.

Perelman School of Medicine in the University of Pennsylvania conducted the research where 281 participants were asked to complete a goal of making 7,000 steps daily, Eurekalert reports.

The participants were randomly divided into four:

  •  Control group, where participants received no incentives nor fines.
  •  Gain incentive group, where participants were rewarded with $1.40 for every day that they completed a goal, or $42 a month.
  •  Lottery incentive group, where participants received lottery entries for completing daily goals.
  •  Loss incentive group, where participants received $42 a month, but were also deducted $1.40 each time they failed their daily goals.

Researchers observed the participants for 13 weeks using a mobile tracker and discovered that the loss incentive group achieved their daily goals by 45 percent. The rest of the groups only reflected 30 to 35 percent improvement.

"Our findings suggest that these programs could result in better outcomes if they designed financial incentives based on principles from behavioral economics such as loss aversion," said lead author Mitesh S. Patel.

"Our findings demonstrate that the potential of losing a reward is a more powerful motivator," said senior study author Kevin Volpp, Daily Mail reports. The researchers also believe that the financial aspect to motivating weight loss must be framed in a way that effects change. Existing wellness programs mostly offer rewards instead of fines.

Meanwhile, imposing a fine or "fat tax" is not a new concept as this has been proposed in Arizona in 2011, ABC News reports.

Japan implemented the "Metabo Law" in 2008, which involves mandatory check ups and waist measurements for 40 to 75-year-old workers. Those who fail the standards are fined and required to get into counseling, Boston University School of Public Health cites.

Denmark also imposed a fat tax on food items. However, the measure was scrapped in 2012 as it brought little success. The Danes opted to shop for food in neighboring countries. They chose to cross borders where food prices are relatively cheaper, The Washington Post reports.

Economics Org cites the pros and cons to taxing obesity as it could help raise government revenue or encourage the food industry to offer better and wider choices. However, it might also force people of low incomes to spend a huge part of their budget on cheaper yet unhealthy foods.