Comparing the impact of financial versus social incentives to increase physical activity in older adults

The Foundation's initiative, Applying Behavioral Economics to Perplexing Problems in Health and Health care, was designed to: (1) apply the principles and frameworks of behavioral economics to uncover pioneering solutions to persistent and perplexing health and health care problems and (2) discover and test interventions that have breakthrough potential to transform the way health care is delivered and health is promoted and preserved.This pilot randomized, controlled trial will test whether older adults will be motivated to sustain a daily walking habit more by receiving a cash reward or by a donation of the same value to a charity of their choice. The grantee will select adults 65 or older residing in a retirement community to participate in this research study, equipping each with a novel computer platform (Way to Health) with a digital pedometer-Internet interface. Many operational elements of the study have been pre-tested with a volunteer population. The Way to Health technology will permit wide dissemination of this intervention to promote a health habit with benefits for a wide range of older adults. Evidence from behavioral economics suggests that people have short-time horizons and difficulty in trading off immediate for delayed health benefits. Little is known, however, about whether financial incentives can be effective in encouraging higher levels of physical activity among older adults, particularly when they are in the form of social goals. A goal of the proposed study is to generate evidence that is scalable and to achieve changes that are sustainable. The research team will disseminate findings through multiple channels, to inform relevant audiences, presenting them to the board of directors of the retirement community (Martin's Run), publishing them in high-impact scientific journals, and developing policy briefs.

Grant Details

Amount Awarded $100,000.00

Awarded on: 3/12/2012

Time frame: 4/1/2012 - 11/30/2013

Grant Number: 69924


University of Pennsylvania

1 College Hall, Room 100
Philadelphia, 19104-6380


Karen Glanz
Project Director


Jason Karlawish
Project Director