In Dubai, the citizens are being offered about $100 worth of gold in exchange for losing at least five pounds of body weight. The incentive program is part of a growing recognition of the health implications of obesity and demonstrates the worth of losing weight.
Dubai is a small Emirate in the Arab Gulf and home to some of the highest rates of obesity in the world, ranking among the top ten most obese countries. A recent United Nations report rated the obesity in this area on average at 35.7%, equaling that of the United States. This is a fairly new issue for this area, as obesity paired with the growing affluence of the average citizen following the discovery of oil in the 1960s.
The program by the Dubai Municipality is called “Your Weight in Gold” and the specific offer is a payout of a gram of gold for every kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) during a challenge lasting one month. Each gram is worth about $41 in the United States. The three people who lose the most weight during the challenge will be entered into a drawing for a gold coin worth about $5,545.
This might sound like easy money, but Dubai is a center of temptations which might make weight loss a challenge as the urban lifestyle of opulence is fueled by the oil industry and it is hard to go outside in average temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The program is certainly a positive attempt to encourage weight loss, but all that glitters is not gold. The main criticism to weight loss programs which feature external incentives to lead weight loss is that these incentives are short term because they come from the outside. A person who loses weight for a prize may not necessarily have achieved a commitment that lasts beyond receiving the prize.
The Dubai program for weight loss shares this potential drawback especially because of the low weight requirement. A motivated person could lose five pounds according to the scale by depriving themselves for a short period of time. Even though they may have only lost water weight and not made any actual changes to their body composition, they will have earned the program reward.
While this program is attempting to make positive changes, the incentive alone must be paired with education or targeted at the means rather than the ends. By focusing on the positively reinforcing the behavioral changes rather than the scale weight, healthy habits are more likely to form. If the incentive was targeted at a minimum number of visits to a health club or enrollment in a community sports team or activity club, the behaviors themselves rather than the appearance of the end result would be addressed.