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Prev Med. 2013 Mar;56(3-4):197-201. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2012.12.020. Epub 2013 Jan 4.

Burn and earn: a randomized controlled trial incentivizing exercise during fall semester for college first-year students.

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Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, University of Vermont, 109 Carrigan Drive, 250 Carrigan Wing, Burlington, VT 05405, USA.



To examine the viability of monetary incentives to increase fitness-center use and maintain/improve the Body Mass Indexes (BMIs) of first-year students over the fall semester.


Randomized-controlled trial with no-treatment and incentive conditions involving 117 first-year students. For 12 weeks, students in the incentive condition received monetary payments ranging from $10 to $38.75 for meeting researcher-set fitness-center use goals that were identical across conditions. Fitness-center use was monitored through electronic ID-card check-in and check-out records at the campus fitness center.


63% of incentive-condition participants met the weekly fitness-center use goals on average compared to only 13% of control-condition participants, a significant difference, p<0.001. Goal achievement significantly decreased over time, p<0.01 and at roughly the same rate in the control and incentive conditions, p=0.23. Average BMI increases over the fall semester in the control (24.2 (0.6) to 24.6 (0.6)kg/m(2)) versus incentive condition (23.1 (0.4) to 23.5 (0.4)kg/m(2)) were not significantly different (p=0.70).


Weekly monetary incentives resulted in significantly more first-year students meeting weekly fitness-center use goals. However, the increased fitness-center use by the incentive condition did not prevent an increase in BMI during fall semester.

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