Livin' on the MDedge

Everyone wins when losers get paid


Bribery really is the solution to all of life’s problems

Breaking news: The United States has a bit of an obesity epidemic. Okay, maybe not so breaking news. But it’s a problem we’ve been struggling with for a very long time. Part of the issue is that there really is no secret to weight loss. Pretty much anything can work if you’re committed. The millions of diets floating around are testament to this idea.

The problem of losing weight is amplified if you don’t rake in the big bucks. Lower-income individuals often can’t afford healthy superfoods, and they’re often too busy to spend time at classes, exercising, or following programs. A group of researchers at New York University has offered up an alternate solution to encourage weight loss in low-income people: Pay them.

Specifically, pay them for losing weight. A reward, if you will. The researchers recruited several hundred lower-income people and split them into three groups. All participants received a free 1-year membership to a gym and weight-loss program, as well as food journals and fitness devices, but one group received payment (on average, about $300 overall) for attending meetings, exercising a certain amount every week, or weighing themselves twice a week. About 40% of people in this group lost 5% of their body weight after 6 months, twice as many as in the group that did not receive payment for performing these tasks.

The big winners, however, were those in the third group. They also received the free stuff, but the researchers offered them a more simple and direct bribe: Lose 5% of your weight over 6 months and we’ll pay you. The reward? About $450 on average, and it worked very well, with half this group losing the weight after 6 months. That said, after a year something like a fifth of this group put the weight back on, bringing them in line with the group that was paid to perform tasks. Still, both groups outperformed the control group, which received no money.

The takeaway from this research is pretty obvious. Pay people a fair price to do something, and they’ll do it. This is a lesson that has absolutely no relevance in the modern world. Nope, none whatsoever. We all receive completely fair wages. We all have plenty of money to pay for things. Everything is fine.

More green space, less medicine

Have you heard of the 3-30-300 rule? Proposed by urban forester Cecil Konijnendijk, it’s become the rule of thumb for urban planners and other foresters into getting more green space in populated areas. A recent study has found that people who lived within this 3-30-300 rule had better mental health and less medication use.

Green grass field in a city rawpixel

If you’re not an urban forester, however, you may not know what the 3-30-300 rule is. But it’s pretty simple, people should be able to see at least three trees from their home, have 30% tree canopy in their neighborhood, and have 300 Spartans to defend against the Persian army.

We may have made that last one up. It’s actually have a green space or park within 300 meters of your home.

In the new study, only 4.7% of people surveyed lived in an area that followed all three rules. About 62% of the surveyed lived with a green space at least 300 meters away, 43% had at least three trees within 15 meters from their home, and a rather pitiful 9% had adequate tree canopy coverage in their neighborhood.

Greater adherence to the 3-30-300 rule was associated with fewer visits to the psychologist, with 8.3% of the participants reporting a psychologist visit in the last year. The data come from a sample of a little over 3,000 Barcelona residents aged 15-97 who were randomly selected to participate in the Barcelona Public Health Agency Survey.

“There is an urgent need to provide citizens with more green space,” said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, lead author of the study. “We may need to tear out asphalt and plant more trees, which would not only improve health, but also reduce heat island effects and contribute to carbon capture.”

The main goal and message is that more green space is good for everyone. So if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, take a breather and sit somewhere green. Or call those 300 Spartans and get them to start knocking some buildings down.


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