Lose The Belly, Save Some Money

If you’re fat and frus­trated, it’s time to put your wal­let where your mouth is.

Men's Health (Singapore) - - ON THE COVER -

If you’re fat and frus­trated, it’s time to put your wal­let where your mouth is.

”You can never be too rich or too thin” is an old say­ing, of­ten at­trib­uted to the Duchess of Wind­sor. Of course, it comes off as snooty–if she had coined it to­day, imag­ine her Twit­ter ra­tios. Here’s the thing, though: Body weight and net worth truly are in­ter­twined, and re­search shows that the more weight peo­ple carry, the less money they tend to have.

This works on dif­fer­ent lev­els. Say you’re an obese 20-yearold who drops to a healthy weight. Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study from Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity, your es­ti­mated life­time sav­ings in health care and pro­duc­tiv­ity would be $37,443. For a 50-year-old, it’d be $48,478.

Jay Zagorsky, Ph.D., an economist and re­searcher at Ohio State Uni­ver­sity, has been ex­am­in­ing the weight-wealth con­nec­tion for more than a decade. His 2015 study, pub­lished in the Ox­ford Hand­book of Eco­nom­ics and Hu­man Bi­ol­ogy, re­vealed this price tag:

For every half kilo of ex­tra weight gained, $302 of wealth is lost. For every point of body mass in­dex gained, $2,539 of wealth is lost. So by Zagorsky’s cal­cu­la­tion, if you’re 22kg over­weight, you’re cheat­ing your­self out of more than $14,699.

An­other fac­tor that im­pacts your in­come: weight dis­crim­i­na­tion. Past re­search has shown that em­ploy­ers find heav­ier em­ploy­ees less de­sir­able as co-work­ers and bosses. It works both ways: A Ger­man study of nearly 18,000 work­ers found that un­der­weight men earn about 8 per­cent less than those in the up­per end of the healthy BMI bracket. The ef­fect was es­pe­cially strong in blue-col­lar jobs.

Of course, no one’s wait­ing to write you a check when you hit your goal weight. But if you want to drop ki­los and keep them off, bring­ing money into the equa­tion looks like a smart play. Re­search shows that money can mo­ti­vate peo­ple to­ward health­ier be­haviour.

The amount at stake doesn’t even have to be siz­able or guar­an­teed. A study in the jour­nal Obe­sity found that par­tic­i­pants in a weight-loss pro­gram who were promised vary­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives ($1.30 to $13.30 per week) for log­ging their progress on the pro­gram’s web­site dropped 49 per­cent more weight than those who weren’t of­fered cash.

Look­ing at obe­sity through lenses like these can be a pow­er­ful new way to change think­ing and fi­nally get the body you want, some re­searchers con­tend. “Some­times peo­ple need a dif­fer­ent and in­ter­est­ing way to think through a prob­lem,” says economist Christo­pher Payne, Ph.D., co-au­thor of The Economists’ Diet: The Sur­pris­ing For­mula for Los­ing Weight and Keep­ing It Off. He and his col­league Rob Bar­nett lost a com­bined 54kg us­ing ba­sic mone­tary prin­ci­ples.

So whether you want to lose 5, 10, or 15-plus ki­los, ap­ply­ing some be­havioural eco­nom­ics could help you cash in. Payne and Bar­nett are liv­ing proof that the strat­egy works. Here’s how to do it.


“Eco­nom­ics was help­ful for us be­cause it pro­vides the best ex­pla­na­tion for be­ing over­weight,” ex­plains Payne. “There is a glut of calo­rie-heavy food sold at cheap prices. Sup­ply cre­ates its own de­mand, which means many of us overeat.” A prime ex­am­ple are club stores such as Costco. A re­cent Dart­mouth study found that mem­bers shop more of­ten and buy at least 3,000 more calo­ries a month than tra­di­tional su­per­mar­ket shop­pers do. In the face of over­whelm­ing sup­ply, we in­crease our de­mand.

To break this cy­cle, re­al­ize that scarcity and plenty are per­cep­tion, not re­al­ity, says Bar­nett. “We dis­cov­ered that we re­ally didn’t need all the food we per­ceived as nec­es­sary. Three square meals a day–what most peo­ple con­sider nor­mal–was way too much. Once we re­al­ized that our per­cep­tions were wrong, eat­ing smaller meals every day was eas­ier.”


It may seem like a good idea to opt for big­ger “value” meals and cheap calo­rie-heavy food; that way you feel like you’re max­i­miz­ing your calo­rie in­take per dol­lar spent and, quite pos­si­bly, sav­ing money too. But long-term it’ll cost you more. Obe­sity and per­sis­tent ex­cess weight is a lead­ing cause of can­cer, heart dis­ease, and di­a­betes; treat­ments for these and other obe­sity-re­lated dis­eases are ul­ti­mately go­ing to be very ex­pen­sive. Re­sist the up­selling and cheap deals; it’s bo­gus eco­nom­ics.


Imag­ine if your doc­tor emailed you a state­ment every month, just like your credit card com­pany does. It would show ev­ery­thing you bought (calo­ries in) and what you owe in or­der to zero out your en­ergy bal­ance. You could make a min­i­mum pay­ment, but that would leave the re­main­ing calo­ries to


com­pound, and we’ve all been down that sorry road. So af­ter your next week­end of in­dul­gence or sum­mer va­ca­tion, gauge the dam­age and im­me­di­ately re­sume ex­er­cis­ing and eat­ing healthy to pay off your debt. Make that your goal every month. Think of it as balanc­ing your belly. Check the mar­ket daily Economists are all about data. That’s why Payne and Bar­nett weigh them­selves every morn­ing. “We dis­cov­ered that our bod­ies are in­cred­i­bly re­ac­tive to what we eat each day,” says Payne. “We can see one day’s eat­ing be­haviour on the scale the fol­low­ing morn­ing. With­out be­ing able to calibrate our eat­ing be­haviour against our weight, we would never have un­der­stood how lit­tle we need to eat.”

Ex­am­ple: Bar­nett re­al­ized that eat­ing pizza, more than any other food, af­fected his morn­ing weigh-ins. Now, he mon­i­tors how fre­quently he eats pizza and main­tains his weight loss. “We stuck to good eat­ing be­haviour be­cause the num­ber from the scale that morn­ing was firmly im­planted front and cen­tre in our minds,” says Payne.

Get to know your weight gain in­sti­ga­tors (e.g., beer drink­ing, Sun­day din­ner at mom’s), and then man­age them.


Let­ting the world know your weight-loss goals may help you achieve them. One study found that us­ing a so­cial me­dia plat­form to an­nounce your progress may help you drop more weight. It keeps the pres­sure on you to con­tinue the pro­gram, and all the vir­tual back-pats pro­vide added in­cen­tive.


For some, it may be bet­ter to turn the fi­nan­cial weight-loss equa­tion around. In­stead of fo­cus­ing on how much your net worth will rise if you drop a few pants sizes, try fo­cus­ing on the cash you’re los­ing, or will be los­ing, due to obe­sity-re­lated prob­lems. A 2016 study found that among over­weight or obese adults, fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity were most ef­fec­tive when framed as a mone­tary loss.

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