Researchers at Newcastle University have published a paper suggesting that tiny cash incentives, as little as £3, could persuade people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, involved an analysis of 16 previous pieces of research, involving over 30,000 participants, who were tasked with quitting smoking or taking up other healthy behaviours, such as physical activity or attending vaccination or screening sessions. Incentives ranged from small or larger amounts of cash to supermarket vouchers.

The Newcastle University team found that even small incentives could make people up to 50% more likely to change their behaviour, when compared with usual care or no intervention. Interestingly, it found that larger incentives were no more likely than smaller ones to be effective.

Furthermore, financial penalties for not succeeding in the task were also found to work, where participants had to hand over cash and get that it back as they fulfilled the requirements of the healthy behaviour. Jean Adams, senior lecturer in public health at Newcastle University said "at this stage we don’t know the right level that incentives should be at, so it is not clear if this sort of scheme would save the NHS and country money".

Still she noted that "we try all kinds of techniques to try to help people to quit smoking or otherwise live healthy lives, so why not try this? It is about nudging people to healthier behaviours. There is a chance this could save the taxpayer money in the long run".