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The following is an archived video story. The text content of that video story is available below for reference. The original video has been deleted and is no longer available.

Losing weight can lead to cold, hard cash

By: Jen Johnson

A lot of people have cashed in and slimmed down through the growing number of online social weight loss programs, which offer incentives for battling the bulge.

Lindsay St. Clair, of Johnstown, started a DietBet game a few weeks ago. She told 6 News Anchor Jen Johnson that in early February, the pot was somewhere around $162,000 for the bet she was involved with.

St. Clair knows that money can't buy her happiness, but it is responsible for the big smile on her face.

"If I could even win a few hundred dollars, a thousand would be incredible," St. Clair said. "I had tried so many things that for me didn't work in the past and for some reason, when there's money at stake, that's the thing that made it happen for me."

DietBet is one of a growing number of online social dieting games, where people compete to lose weight.

The incentive is easy: Cold hard cash -- and it's relatively simple how it works.

First, put in a wager up front and it goes into a pot, with the more people who play, the bigger the pot grows. Everyone who reaches the weight loss goal is guaranteed their money back, plus the winners split the pot.

Psychologist Mary Berge, of Richland Township, said using the money as a motivator isn't uncommon, but the bigger the amount is involved, the more people work toward their goal.

"Psychologists have always known that money is a motivator, and that somehow it's connected to our performance, to motivation, to how we succeed," Berge said. "But I think a more important variable about money is the fact that the amount can play into this."

Additional proof can be found in a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, finding that dieters with a financial incentive were almost five times more likely to reach their target than dieters with no money at stake. Other research suggests people will work harder to not lose money than to try to earn it.

"For instance, if I tell you that if you lose 10 pounds, I'm gonna give you $10, that's probably not going to be a very good motivator for you." Berge said. "But if I say I'm gonna give you $110, you might be more interested."

Berge said what can also help is the game-like atmosphere and competitiveness of the diets.

"People like games," Berge said. "There's something about the mystique and allure of 'How much can I win?' [It's] similar to playing the lottery."

The founder of DietBet has claimed 93 percent of people who play end up losing weight, and about one third of the people in any given game win, taking home extra cash.

Anyone can join a game or start their own. There are two kinds, a "kickstarter" and a "transformer."

The kickstarter is to lose four percent of body weight in four weeks. The transformer is to lose 10 percent of body weight in six months.

With about two thirds of Americans considered overweight or obese, and billions of dollars spent every year on weight loss products and programs, it's not surprising that people are putting their money where their fat is.

Jason Mahla, of Johnstown, won a DietBet game about a year ago and has kept the weight off.

"Nobody wants to lose," Mahla said. "I mean I don't care if you're 5-years-old or 50-years-old, why would you want to go in and lose?"

Mahla said, as with any weight loss, it about working toward your goal.  
"I fluctuated a little bit," he said. "It's not a crash diet. Losing four percent of your body weight in a month isn't that egregious."

Critics have argued that as the finish line nears, some people have done whatever it takes to have met their weight loss goal, and that it could lead to unhealthy, sometimes unsustainable weight loss.

"Money can also be a factor in deterring motivation, because if that factor gets too high, if the incentive for instance, or the amount you have to put in is too high, it can actually cause a lot of psychological pressure that can lead to one's failure or interfere with one's ability to succeed," Berge said.

St. Clair's wager is 25 bucks a month. She said the program has worked for her, when others have not, and the biggest surprise was her forming a new network of friends.

"The social aspect of it is really great," St. Clair said. "We're all striving to meet the same goal and so everybody has been really supportive of one another. If you have had a rough day, you might post 'Hey, I was struggling today.' You'll have 10 posts in five minutes from people like 'Hang in there,' so, it's a really nice idea. I love it."

Some at 6 News like the idea, too. So much so, members of the 6 News team have started their own DietBet game. We invite you to join us as we try to lose four percent of our weight in four weeks.

The game starts Feb. 14.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times