A systematic review of financial incentives given in the health care setting: do they effectively improve physical activity levels?

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Introduction: A substantial amount of the western population is inactive according to current physical activity guidelines, which is an important risk factor for chronic conditions and mortality. Financial incentives may encourage people to become more active. The objective of this review was to provide insight in the effectiveness of financial incentives used for promoting physical activity in the healthcare setting.
Methods: A systematic literature search was performed in three databases: Medline, EMBASE and SciSearch. In total, 1395 papers published up until April 2015 were identified. Eleven of them were screened on in- and exclusion criteria based on the full-text publication.
Results: Three studies were included in the review. Two studies have combined a financial incentive with nutrition classes or motivational interviewing. One of which provided a free membership to a sports facility and the other one provided vouchers each for one episode of aerobic activities at a local leisure center or swimming pool. The third study provided a schedule for exercise sessions. None of the studies addressed the preferences of their target population with regard to financial incentives. Despite some short-term effects, neither of the studies showed significant long-term effects of the financial incentive.
Discussion: Based on the limited number of studies and the diversity in findings, no solid conclusion can be drawn regarding effectiveness of financial incentives on physical activity in the healthcare setting. Therefore, there is a need for more research on the effectiveness of financial incentives on changing physical activity behavior in this setting. Possibly, there is something to be gained from studying preferred type and size of the financial incentive.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15
JournalBMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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