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ShapeUp Falls Down Trying To Do Math For Highmark

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“By uniting people based on common health interests and goals, and empowering them to spread the word by inviting their colleagues to join, the program created thousands of connections and enabled Highmark to build a grassroots communication strategy that reached the company’s entire employee population. This strategy, combined with the organic spread of peer-to-peer motivation, support and accountability, helps launch and sustain successful company-wide wellness challenges year after year.”

Materials Being Reviewed

ShapeUp’s Case Study of Highmark employees’ weight-loss program. Highmark is a 19,600-employee Blue Cross health plan headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA.

Summary of key figures and outcomes:

Shape up results report

Lose ten pounds in eight weeks


Questions for ShapeUp:

Out of Highmark’s 19,600 employees, are we right in calculating that only 163 (0.8% of the total, or 1.3% of participants) improved their BMI status?

ANS: Refused to answer

If about 9000 people (46% of 19,600) lost an average of 5.6 pounds, how come only 163 shifted to a lower weight category?   Statistically speaking, shouldn’t roughly 1800 people have crossed the threshold into a lower category if the average weight loss was 5.6 pounds?

ANS: Refused to answer

Do you have a sense of how many people, on average, would improve their BMI status over this same (undisclosed) period absent a formal workplace wellness program, through initiatives undertaken on their own?

ANS: Refused to answer

How come you didn’t reveal the number of employees whose BMI status deteriorated over that period?

ANS: Refused to answer

How many people dropped out of the program, due to disappointing results or other factors?

ANS: Refused to answer

The program was quite brief, and it’s generally accepted that short-term weight loss rarely translates into long-term weight maintenance. Were participants able to keep the weight off after the program ended, or was this largely short-term weight loss?

ANS: Refused to answer

If indeed you were to add back in non-participants, dropouts, people whose BMIs went up, and people who were unable to keep the weight off after the program ended, it is possible that the 0.8% success rate would actually be lower?

ANS: Refused to answer

You equate “improved health” with reduced weight and propose “losing 10 pounds in 8 weeks,” but couldn’t reduced weight in a short period be due to crash-dieting, which would not be healthy?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why would a program as “motivating” (using your own word) as ShapeUp’s need to be accompanied by Highmark’s $4200 fines for non-participation, believed to be the highest in the country?

ANS: Refused to answer

August 20–Score one for They Said What:  ShapeUp has taken down its boast about this 0.8% short-term improvement in weight classifications.  We hope that this is a step in the right direction and that they will seek validation from a legitimate validation source going forward.   We doubt it but look forward to being proven wrong.

 March 8–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lets Highmark pile on, explaining why they fired ShapeUp.


  1. Brian says:

    I used to work there–it’s a joke. Congratulations on outing them


  2. […] 7:  Rajiv Kumar, ShapeUp.   In 2014, Dr. Kumar became the first person — and probably thanks to his experience, the […]


  3. […] case studies. Our research has shown that short-term corporate weight-loss initiatives, such as “lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks”programs, usually fail or even backfire by incentivizing people to binge before the first weigh-in […]


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