Should people be paid to live healthier lives? This is a question that a new Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health will try to answer.
The centre, which has been funded with £800,000 for five years, brings together economists, psychologists and philosophers to examine what motivates us to improve our health and how our behaviour can be affected by rewards and incentives.
It will also examine what incentives are fair and ethical - a crucial question at a time when governments are increasingly trying to influence our behaviour with money.
It is the first time a cross-disciplinary team has been brought together to study these questions. The new centre is funded by the Wellcome Trust, and the principal investigators will be economist Adam Oliver of LSE Health, Theresa Marteau, Professor of Health Psychology at King's College and Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Bioethics at Queen Mary's, University of London.
Dr Oliver said: "Our central task will be to ask when it is right to use financial incentives to improve health. We will be looking at four reward schemes already running in the UK which are aimed at reducing obesity and drug dependence, encouraging better health during pregnancy and getting people with psychotic disorders to take long-acting medication.
'Even when schemes like these are shown to work, they are often criticised - either for being an unwarranted intrusion into peoples' lives or for rewarding behaviour which should be a personal responsibility.
'We hope the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health will be able to show not only what can be effective in influencing behaviour but also to what extent it is ethically justified.'
Dr Oliver will recruit a post-doctoral fellow and a PhD student to join his team when the centre starts work in April. Professors Marteau and Ashcroft will also each recruit a post-doctoral and a PhD student. The centre will work closely with people at the Department for Health, the King's Fund and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, among others.
For more information;
Dr Adam Oliver 020 7955 6471
LSE Press Office 020 7955 7440
24 June 2008