Financial incentives of up to £400 alongside text messages could encourage men living with obesity to lose weight, research has found.

The research, known as Game of Stones and presented at the European Congress of Obesity, involved a year-long trial involving 585 men living with obesity from Belfast, Bristol and Glasgow.

They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: text messaging with financial incentives, text messages only, or the control group. Thirty-nine per cent of the participants were from a lower socioeconomic background, while 40% had two or more long-term health conditions.

Those assigned to the group that received texts with financial incentives were sent motivational messages and healthy-eating tips. They were also told that £400 would be transferred to them at the end of the trial but they would lose money if they did not achieve a weight loss target.

Fifty pounds would be taken away if they did not lose 5% of their body weight after three months, £150 if they failed to lose 10% of their weight after six months and £200 if they had not maintained the 10% weight loss after a year.

The text messages group received the same messages but without the financial reward.

The study found that the men who received the financial incentives alongside the text messages lost the most weight, at 4.8% of their body weight. This compared with the text message group alone losing 2.7%, and 1.3% for the control group.

Prof Pat Hoddinott, of the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at the University of Stirling, who led the study, said she hoped the study would be adopted by the NHS, adding that men who were living with obesity “helped design the structure of the incentives and helped us write the text messages”.

Hoddinott added that the study was inspired by “deposit contracts”, where people deposited their own money and would lose it if they did not meet weight-loss goals.

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“This is informed by behavioural economic theory, which proposes that people are more motivated by the prospect of losing money than the prospect of gaining money,” she said.

“However, not everyone can afford to deposit their own money, so we designed the Game of Stones trial, which uses an endowment incentive, where the money is put in an account at the start, allowing men on low incomes to join.”

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