Are Work Weight-Loss Contests a Good Idea?

by Lexi Petronis


Has your place of employment ever held a weight-loss contest? Many years ago, mine did--I didn't participate, but the contest was soon called off because everyone gained weight and the boss didn't think it made sense to just give the person who happened to gain the fewest LBs all the cash. Hee.

While the contest idea clearly didn't work in that particular instance, monetary rewards and peer pressure can apparently produce a pretty winning combination in weight-loss motivation.

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A study by the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System and the University of Michigan Health System found that employees who are offered cash for losing weight are more successful when the rewards are based on how they perform with a group. In fact, the study said that this combo led to nearly three times more weight loss (as compared with cash rewards based on an individual's performance).

Researchers studied two types of incentives among obese employees at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Members of the first group were offered $100 each month if they met their goals for weight loss on their own. Members of the second group were sorted into groups of five, and $500 was split among the people who met their weight-loss goals each month. (That meant that some people could earn more than $100 if others didn't meet the goals.)

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Says Jeffrey Kullgren, the study's lead author: "Despite the health and economic consequences of obesity, the problem isn't getting any better, and there is great interest in identifying new approaches to combating this major health issue in our country. Approaches such as The Biggest Loser have received popular attention as ways to harness group dynamics to encourage weight loss, but the winner-take-all nature could be discouraging for everyone but the most successful person."

What do you think about this? Would you participate in a weight-loss contest at work?

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