Social Comparisons and Financial Incentives to Increase Physical Activity
Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD
Paper of the Year, American Journal of Health Promotion
National Institute on Aging
Physical activity is associated with many health benefits, including reduced rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. However, more than 50 percent of adults in the United States don't achieve enough regular physical activity to obtain such benefits.
We designed a study to test multiple interventions leveraging social comparison feedback and financial incentives to increase physical activity.
We partnered with Penn Medicine to enroll close to 300 employees. Participants formed teams of four and were asked to use their smartphones to track at least 7,000 steps per day. Teams were randomly assigned to one of four arms.
Teams received social comparisons to the 50th percentile (normative feedback) in two arms. One of these arms also received financial incentives while the other did not. In the other two arms, teams received social comparisons to the 75th percentile (top performer feedback). Again, one of these arms also received financial incentives while the other did not.
Way to Health was used to administer and manage the program.
Normative feedback with financial incentives was the most effective intervention, with 45 percent of participants achieving their 7,000-step goal over the course of the study. Participants who received top performer feedback without incentives had the lowest level of physical activity. These findings indicate that how comparison feedback is framed can significantly influence individual and team behavior. The American Journal of Health Promotion awarded this study Paper of the Year.