Skip to main content

Can Gamification Boost Physical Activity in Veterans with Obesity?

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMay 29, 2024

A recent randomized clinical trial investigated the effectiveness of gamification, with and without financial incentives, in promoting increased physical activity among veterans classified as having obesity or overweight. The study sought to determine if these strategies could be effective when applied to veterans—a group that has not been extensively researched in this context.

The trial, which had 180 participants, was conducted over a 12-week intervention period and an 8-week follow-up period at a single site in Philadelphia. Participants were given wearable devices to track their step counts and were divided into three groups: a control group that received feedback from their devices only, a group that participated in gamification with social support, and a group that participated in the same gamification strategy but with loss-framed financial incentives.

The primary outcome of interest was the change in the average number of steps taken daily from baseline during the intervention. The results were promising for the group that combined gamification with financial incentives, which saw a significant increase of 1,224 steps per day. However, once the financial incentive was removed during the follow-up period, this increase was not sustained. Meanwhile, the group with only gamification and social support did not see a significant change in activity levels.

This suggests that while gamification with financial incentives can encourage more physical activity among veterans with obesity or overweight, the effects may be short-lived and not sustained without ongoing incentives. The veterans without financial stimuli did not show significant changes, indicating that just the game mechanics might not be enough to prompt long-term behavior modification.

The study, while limited by factors such as a single location and a need for smartphone or tablet access, provides critical insights into designing interventions to motivate increased physical activity in specific populations. It also reveals a need for further investigation on how to maintain changes in behavior without continual financial motivation.

To read the full study and learn more about gamification's role in promoting physical activity, interested readers can access the article in JAMA Network Open at [link to the original study].

Built with the help of


Agarwal, A. K., Waddell, K. J., Small, D. S., Evans, C., Harrington, T. O., Djaraher, R. D., Oon, A. L., & Patel, M. S. (2021). Effect of Gamification With and Without Financial Incentives to Increase Physical Activity Among Veterans Classified as Having Obesity or Overweight: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 4(7), e2116256.