NEW YORK (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS)The more you stand to lose, the deeper your commitment to losing, particularly when it’s your wallet and not your word that’s at stake.

People who contractually committed online to lose a certain amount of weight or else fork over a predetermined amount of cash to a friend, a favorite charity, or even a hated charity were, on average, successful at losing 5.2% of their body weight, according to preliminary data presented at the annual meeting of the North American Primary Care Research Group.

In a retrospective analysis of 5,024 self-selected participants in an online contractual weight loss site, 70% of whom were women whose average age was 39 years, the ones who pledged to let their money go to an “anticharity” if they didn’t meet their weight loss goals lost nearly 8% of their body weight. Those who pledged to give to a favorite charity lost just under 7%, and those who promised to pay a friend if they didn’t succeed lost 6.3% of their body weight. Those whose commitment did not involve any cash lost 3.4% of their body weight.

“If you are for gun control, your anticharity would be the National Rifle Association,” Dr. Lenard Lesser, a family physician and researcher at the Palo Alto (Calif.) Medical Foundation and Research Institute, said in an interview. “So, if you don’t lose the weight you said you’d lose, then the money you committed would go to the NRA.”

There was no statistical difference in weight loss between those who committed to either a charity or an anticharity, but according to Dr. Lesser, the data, set to be published in the near future, indicated that there was a statistical difference between the amount of weight lost when money was committed compared with when no money was committed. “People are averse to losing money wherever it goes,” he said.

The average duration of the weight loss commitments in the online weight loss commitment study were between 10 and 16 weeks, but it is unclear whether the weight loss was permanent, and whether the contracts could serve as a viable weight loss intervention in the primary care setting, according to Dr. Lesser. “We don’t know what happens to these people long term. We need to explore how these contracts can be integrated into a more comprehensive system.”

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