NHS pays obese men £400 to lose weight in ‘Game of Stones’

A man's measuring his waistline
A man's measuring his waistline

Overweight men are being paid up to £400 each by the NHS to lose weight, in a scheme which has proved more successful than traditional diet plans.

The trial found that sending men a daily text message reminding them of their desire to lose weight – with cash rewards for success – was an effective way to get patients in shape.

Slimmers were told they would lose money from a possible £400 prize pot if they did not slim down, while being offered advice and healthy recipes.

Experts say the scheme, nicknamed “Game of Stones”, is ready to scale up for an NHS rollout.

The study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity [MUST KEEP] recruited 585 men from Bristol, Glasgow and Belfast.

They lost an average of 4.8 per cent of their body weight in a year with the aid of text reminders sent to their mobile.

Trial chief Dr Pat Hoddinott, from the University of Stirling in Scotland, said: “Losing weight can make people feel better, reduce their risk of many health problems such as diabetes, and helps the health service with their aim to keep men well. However, we know men often don’t like to go to traditional weight loss groups.

“The research showed that offering cash incentives was a popular and effective way of helping men to lose weight. This initiative would be a low-cost solution for the health service to offer to men, requiring only four short weight appointments, and with money paid out only at the end to those who lose over 5 per cent of their starting weight.”

Cash was paid out by the NHS at the end of the year, with the final amount dependent on how much lighter they were.

They won an average of £128 each and lost significantly more weight than if they received texts with no cash offer, or received neither.

Research shows the NHS spends an average of £979 to £1,375 per year looking after an obese patient, compared to £638 for someone of a healthy weight.

The scheme took advice from men about the kind of text messages they would find encouraging.

Participants were sent messages which were deemed inspirational about the efforts of fellow slimmers.

Examples include “Alex said he didn’t want to treat his body like a skip any more” and “‘David found it helpful to walk a different route home from work so that he wasn’t tempted into his favourite takeaway’.

Researchers said: “We used men’s language so they were very definitely designed with men for men.”

Dr Hoddinott said: “We definitely think this is worthwhile.

“The weight lost was greater than for a lot of the behavioural weight management services that are currently offered across the UK.

“They tend to be very intensive and men told us it was important to make it easy because they didn’t have a lot of time in their lives.”

The government-funded experiment let people diet or exercise any way they wanted but deducted money from their prize fund if they did not lose weight and keep it off.

Dr Hoddinott said the scheme only needed four weigh-ins per year, which would be easier for clinics than other NHS weight loss classes that offer 12 sessions a year.

This could also reduce high patient drop-out rates.

She added: “It is difficult to lose weight and it’s not easy to sustain.

“We know that because there are so many gym memberships taken out in January that don’t get used.

“We know we need a different approach. We hope in the long-term this would pay for itself.”

Jane DeVille-Almond, from the British Obesity Society, said: “This is exciting news and we definitely need an easy and cost-effective way of getting society to lose weight.

“Men are a particularly difficult group to engage in our healthcare system, so texts and financial incentives is a great way forward.”

The NHS has no plans to roll out the scheme nationally.