ROME – What better incentive than money to drop a few pounds? Gianluca Buonanno, the mayor of Varallo, a town of 7,500 in northern Italy, thinks it might work. The town is offering cash rewards to overweight residents who slim down and more money if they keep the weight off.
“We wanted to encourage people to lose weight, and we thought that both the money and the idea of joining a group could be stimulating,” Buonanno said in a telephone interview Thursday.
The town’s offer is the latest effort by public officials and employers to encourage people to exercise and trim their weight. Earlier this summer, a Baltimore company sponsored a weight-loss contest to motivate its employees.
Participants in the week-old Varallo initiative will be given $67 when they reach their ideal weight. If they don’t gain any weight back after five months, they will receive $268.
If they maintain their ideal weight for a year, they will get $670 more.
So far, 30 of the townsfolk have signed up, Buonanno said.
To enroll, participants must present a medical certificate proving they are overweight. They can choose to be assisted by a dietitian, who helps determine their ideal weight, and a personal trainer.
Buonanno’s inspiration? His own need for a diet.
“If you have a health problem, you can get sick, stop going to work and are less exuberant,” he said. “We just want a better society.”
The mayor said the town has set aside about $13,000 for the project. It is looking for sponsors to expand the program.
The prevalence of obesity in Europe has tripled in the past two decades. Half of all adults and 20 percent of all children are estimated to be overweight, the World Health Organization says. Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese.
Dave Rankhorn, a tourist visiting Rome from Chicago, knows he’s overweight. As he took pictures of the Spanish Steps on Thursday, he considered Buonanno’s proposal.
“Money is always great as an incentive. I have always wanted to lose weight, but never had the motivation,” he said.
If someone told him he’d get paid to lose weight, “I would be there, I would do that,” he said.
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