There are plenty of incentive-based fitness apps on the market today, but IBM has taken a slightly different approach to weight loss gamification, with a monetized program that could bring competitive dieting to the workplace. The system, which received patent approval in December, offers monetary rewards to users who eat well and exercise, while providing real-time feedback on calorie consumption and other health metrics.
Like many other health apps, IBM's program requires users to submit their own data on eating and exercise, though it's notably more flexible in scope. As inventor Michael Paolini told the New York Times, his system could offer guidance to those adopting a vegan or Kosher diet, and could even pay dividends for parents looking to monitor their child's food intake. Paolini went on to explain that the program offers cash rewards because "everyone understands cash," but added that it could easily incorporate other incentives, including movie tickets or FarmVille achievements.
It took about ten years for Paolini's system to receive patent approval, and now that it has, he's looking to license it to health insurance providers. According to the engineer, IBM's program could provide insurance companies with more accurate information about a consumer's health profile, thereby allowing them to cut costs and premiums for more health-conscious employees. Some, however, are concerned that the system could violate employee privacy, while others argue that insurance providers could easily abuse it to their advantage. There's also the risk that employees may report inaccurate data.
Paolini says these are issues each employer would have to consider before implementing IBM's program, though he points out that dieters have generally become more open about their regimes, thanks to the rise of social media. "People post their daily weight or eating habits to online social groups," he explained. "What they get from this is sometimes encouragement, sometimes suggestions, and sometimes a swift boot to the butt to help put them back on the right path."