As global obesity levels reach epidemic proportions, experts in the field are focused on reversing the world's growing waistlines.

While we know exercise and healthy eating are key to reversing the trend, finding the motivation to adhere to a fitness filled, junk food free lifestyle can be easier said than done.

But a new study has suggested a key way to help overweight and obese people shift those extra kilograms - fine them if they don't exercise.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found people are more inclined to get active if they risk losing money by skipping a workout.


Senior study author Dr Kevin Volpp told the Daily Mail: "Our findings demonstrate that the potential of losing a reward is a more powerful motivator."

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, assessed the efficacy of three different types of financial incentives to encourage exercise among overweight and obese adults.

The study's lead author, Dr Mitesh Patel said: "Although most people know that exercise is good for their health, more than 50 per cent of adults in the United States don't get enough of it."

While there are numerous programs available to people intended to help increase physical activity, scientists say there is a lack of understanding around designing incentives within these programs.

According to Patel, the study's findings suggest we could see better outcomes from these programs "if they designed financial incentives based on principles from behavioral economics such as loss aversion."

The study saw 281 participants given the goal of reaching 7,000 steps per day for a period of 26 weeks.

In the first 13 weeks, the participants were split into four groups. One control group were offered no financial incentive while the gain group were given $1.40 for each day they achieved their steps goal.

There was also a loss incentive group, in which participants lost $1.40 for each day they failed to reach 7,000 steps.


Progress was tracked through a mobile app on participant's smartphones.

The results from the first half of the study showed offering a daily reward was no more effective than offering no reward at all.

The participants in those groups only achieved the goal approximately 30 to 35 per cent of the time.

But, for those who risked losing the money they'd already been given, they achieved their goal nearly 45 per cent of the time, which amounts to an almost 50 per cent increase over the control group.

From their findings, the scientists determined that the way financial incentives are framed is important.

After noting that 96 per cent of the participants were still enrolled in the study even after the incentives ended, the researchers determined that smartphones should be used to deploy these types of programs on a wider scale.


Co-author Dr David Asch said: "Our findings reveal how wearable devices and apps can play a role in motivating people to increase physical activity, but what really makes the difference is how you design the incentive strategy around those apps."