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Weight-Loss Plan Pays S. Floridians To Shed Pounds

MIAMI (CBS4) - Many South Floridians lose weight to be healthier and feel better, but when you're getting cold, hard cash to shed the pounds it can make the deal is even sweeter.

Financial incentives are the latest wellness craze, inspiring Americans who are overweight or obese to try to ditch the potato chips and soda. But now an independent Web site is offering to pay South Floridians who drop a certain amount of weight over the course of a year.

"That's good motivation, extra money in your pocket, " said Ana Avila who works out at Gold's Gym on 8th street in Miami which serves as one of the weigh-in stations for contestants.

Since launched in October of 2009, hopefuls have signed up for the site, which gets corporate sponsors to give a cash reward to obese users who during a specified time period move from an unhealthy to a healthy body mass index (BMI). And the program is extending that offer to South Floridians, with dozens of fitness clubs in South Florida who are part of the program serving as official weigh in locations.

"It's tough for people to get in the gym.  It's uncomfortable," said manager of Gold's Gym, Chris Corbo. "It's a great motivator for people to start."

According to the site, join a team of 5, pay an entry fee of $60 (less if your employer sponsors you), lose weight and take home the $10,000 top prize.

A few years ago, in an effort to cut overall health care costs, companies started dangling gift cards, free cruises and even cash prizes to employees who shed excess pounds.

The site features four weight loss challenges:

BMI Challenge provides $100 from corporate sponsors to obese Americans (nearly one third of the nation) who lose weight.

SuperSizer challenges members to increase their chances of success by betting $150 or $300 that they will lose weight—with potential rewards of $450 or $1,000 for losing weight.

Top Motivator rewards $1 for each pound lost to the individual whose friends lose the most weight in the 2010 BMI Challenge.

Weekly Weigh-in encourages users to check in once a week, report their weight, share weight loss and health tips with a supportive online community—and earn rewards from sponsors.

According to the site, HealthyWage incentive programs are designed after "academic research showing that cash rewards triple the effectiveness of weight loss programs; that people are more effective at losing weight when they have money on the line."

It has been proven, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that dieters who had a financial incentive to lose weight were nearly five times as likely to meet their goal when compared with dieters who had no potential for a financial reward.

"I should have heard about this 8 weeks ago, that's great," said J.D. Arteaga who is currently involved in a weight loss challenge at his gym Peak 360 that does not offer money as an incentive.

HealthyWage, which makes money through advertising and sponsorships, claims it can save the health care system $1,150 in obesity-related costs for each person who slims down to a healthy BMI.

But the plan is hardly an easy payout.

Participants must enlist a physician who is required to call HealthyWage to verify the participant's weight at the beginning and end of the challenge.

Participants can also visit a fitness center registered with the program to help them meet their goals. HealthyWage advises participants to record their visits to the health club in their journal and examine what impact visiting the gym has on their mental and physical health. They also advise participants to, "store your health club in your health record and share it with your friend and family so that they know where you work out and can join you at the gym."

Those enlisted in the program provide updates to their profile, which is created online. It may be a move that makes it tough for participants to cheat, which is a good thing for many who are serious about weight loss.

For more information on the South Florida program, visit their Web site.

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