August 16, 2007

Food for Thought: Will Diet For Money (Update)

Turns out the BBC article I linked to yesterday didn't tell the whole story of Italian mayor Gianluca Buonanno's health initiative of paying his overweight residents to lose weight.

One of my critiques was that this concept seemed like a cheap reality show stunt -- lose six and a half pounds in one month and you'll get $70. Where was the nutrition education, I asked? The outreach to get people to exercise?

Well, Dr. Domingo Pinero of New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health dug up some more information and was kind enough to share it with me.

Guess what? This health initiative is better than I thought!

First of all -- once these overweight patients get a note from a doctor verifying they do need to lose weight, they are provided a personalized diet, rather than left to their own accord.

And, even better -- the town offers free exercise lessons in local parks.

Interestingly, I also learned that women get the cash if the lose six and a half pounds, but men need to lose eight pounds in one month in order to "win".

That is the one part of this initiative I still have a problem with. If a man loses six pounds in 4 weeks, that should still be commended and rewarded, especially if it is the result of a personalized meal plan and regular exercise.

I say take away the cash prize and subsidize these people's initial consultations with a dietitian. As for the $15,000 budget put aside for this initiative, look into implementing nutrition education in schools. It's never too early.

Public health nutrition authorities agree.

Earlier today I e-mailed the always resourceful Marion Nestle and asked her if she knew of any thorough studies on external motivators in relation to weight loss and management.

"Mostly on social factors -- strong family and peer support. Recent studies of single interventions don't show much (how could they?) although some school interventions look promising," she replied.

No comments: