Money talks, particularly when it comes to losing weight.
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In an effort to cut their expenses, companies have launched wellness programs that pay workers to lose weight and hopefully lower their health risks and time and money spent on care.
“Weight loss is more fun and more successful if you offer individuals cash,” says David Roddenberry, CEO of wellness program HealthyWage.com.
The obesity epidemic plaguing the country not only adds billions of dollars in costs to the nation’s health-care system, it also weighs on employees’ productivity. According to HealthyWage, workers dealing with obesity and other chronic health issues cost more than $153 billion a year in lost productivity due to absenteeism.
Reduced productivity and the rising costs associated with health insurance, employers are increasingly looking for programs that will get workers fit and drive down health-care costs.
Some programs offered by HealthyWage have the employees putting in the money to lose weight. “People are motivated if they’re putting down their own money and losing their own money,” says Roddenberry. He adds that in addition to reducing health-care costs, companies are drawn to weight-loss wellness programs because they engage workers and cultivate team building across an organization.
HealthyWage offers employers many programs to choose from that track an individual’s progress or a team’s weight loss.
The BMI Challenge pays $1,000 to people who invest $300 to participate and go from an obese BMI to a normal BMI in 12 months. Participants have to follow a set of rules and check in weekly to track progress. Participants who don’t want to invest the $300 over the year can earn $100 for getting to a normal BMI. According to HealthyWage, about 25% of those that committed their money won the $1,000 at the end of the challenge.
In HealthWage’s $10,000 team weight loss competition, participants pay a $75 registration fee and compete in teams of five for the greatest percentage of weight loss over a three-month period. To discourage extreme dieting or other unhealthy tactics the weight loss is limited to 16.59% of the starting body weight.
Companies can also join the $10,000 Team Weight Loss Challenge to compete against a team from another company. The teams from different companies compete to lose the greatest percentage of weight. HealthyWage says participants of the team weight loss challenges have lost on average 4.6% of their body weight and more than 40% of participants shed more than 5% of their body weight.
For individuals, HealthyWage also offers the 10% Challenge program that lets workers bet and profit on weight loss. Participants pay $150 for a chance to win $300 if they lose 10% of their starting body weight within six months.
Bob Nelson, senior HR specialist, wellness at WakeMed, a non-profit health care system starting offering employees the HealthyWage program because many of his workforce were overweight or obese.
“We are remarkably average,” says Nelson. “About two-thirds of America is overweight or obese and so are we.” Having a program focused on weight loss will impact the company’s bottom line over time, he adds.
Employees of WakeMed pay $20 a month for three months to participate in the weight loss program. Around 200 of 8,000 employees signed up, and Nelson says those that participated didn’t drop out--even if the weight wasn’t coming off.
“A lot of times if the employee is not successful or they don’t think they will win they will drop out of the program and with this we had a percentage of employees who waited it out,” says Nelson. “It speaks to the success of the program. They stayed in even if they weren’t winning.”