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Home » Obesity » For Its Get-Thin-Quick Programs, HealthyWage Proposes Unhealthy Wagers

For Its Get-Thin-Quick Programs, HealthyWage Proposes Unhealthy Wagers

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

This post has a “sequel”: how employees cheat on corporate weight loss programs…by damaging their own health.

Just when you thought wellness vendors have all finally connected to the internet, HealthyWage comes along.

They write: “Given the financial upside and the fact that they’re just plain fun, it’s no wonder that diet competitions and weight-loss betting programs are exploding across America and beyond.”  Crash-dieting is “just plain fun” ?  That recalls the line from Surviving Workplace Wellness: “Wellness programs are designed to make employees happy whether they like it or not.” More importantly and to elaborate on the opening sentence, HealthyWage has managed to overlook all the research, easily accessible online, that says:

  1. Short-term weight loss is meaningless;
  2. Weight cycling — exactly the type of thing crash-dieting causes — is harmful;
  3. Employers can’t get employees to lose weight, and even if they could, weight loss doesn’t generate savings;
  4. In the commercially insured population, no avoidable admissions can be avoided by weight loss betting, making HealthyWage’s “financial upside” claim about as likely as its claim that these crash diets are “just plain fun.”

HealthyWage is resuscitating the old “Biggest Loser Contests,” under two new names: “Diet for Dollars” and “Pay for Pounds.”  After I read this, I checked my calendar. It assures me that we have not reached the end of March yet, which means these names are intended to be serious, as is the program.  They really want you, as a wellness manager in an HR department, to institute crash-diet programs.

But not so fast. They urge you to first undertake “a touch of due diligence before you pay to play.”

Further, they thoughtfully provided the “due diligence” questions they advise HR departments to ask before retaining a vendor to weigh their employees.  Let’s play a little game here.  I’ll excerpt four real questions that HeathyWage wants you to ask, but then sneak in a fifth phony one.  See if you can guess which question that should not be part of due diligence, according to HealthyWage.  (By the way, you may find this hard to believe after you read them, but I am not making up any of the other four.)

  1. Where does your prize money for our employees come from?
  2. How do you verify the weigh-in and prevent “fraudulent participants” ?
  3. Will you show us the body of research highlighting the effectiveness of paying employees to lose weight (um, like this article)?
  4. Does your get-thin-quick scheme come with a warning label, and will you indemnify us if any of our employees harm themselves while bingeing before the initial weigh-in or crash-dieting before the last one?
  5. How do we get media attention when you weigh our employees?

Since the fourth question addresses the harms of the ironically named company’s program, and is the most important question of all, it is no surprise that this is the question they don’t want asked, the phony one I inserted.

While the fourth is the most important, the second the most inscrutable, the third the most impossible, and the first the most naive, the fifth is the biggest head-scratcher.

For the fifth, I have a follow-up question for HealthyWage: Why would you want people like me writing columns like this about programs like yours?








  1. Sam Lippe says:

    Mind-boggling. I’m not sure what part of this is most unbelievable


  2. Michael Cadger says:

    One wonders when they are going to start handing out tapeworms.


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Don’t put ideas in their heads. But remember, according to the EEOC, that would be perfectly legal as long as the employees swallowed them voluntarily instead of paying the four-figure fine.


  3. Steph says:

    Thank you for exposing this company and it’s program! The get thin quick scheme is bad enough but I must admit I’m a little surprised you didn’t comment on how they make their money too. I could be wrong, but I believe (if I did the math right) that their profit comes from the fact that the majority of people fail in this program. I was stunned at what they can make financially by providing programs they know the majority of people will fail. Very sad.


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We have commented before on Bravo Wellness, which has admitted that the more people fail, the more the employer saves. Like you, I looked hard at HealthyWage but couldn’t find a smoking gun. In this case, the more often people regain the weight and they could re-start the contest, the more money the vendor will make, but the more money the employer will lose.


  4. Steph says:

    Thank you for exposing this company and their get thin quick scheme! The weight loss focus is bad enough, but it infuriates me that they are making money on the fact that they know the majority of people will fail the program. It’s the only way they can profit.


  5. “the majority of people fail in this program” = I’m starting to believe that’s the case….although when I first joined them back in Jan/Feb, I asked the phone rep point blank what their “success rate” was – of course she hemmed & hawed and didn’t give me an exact answer, so then I asked is it at least 50/50? like do AT LEAST half the people who sign up actually end up WINNING their wagers? and she said oh yes absolutely! too bad this shady outfit doesn’t publicize their exact success rate, cuz I’m now wondering if it’s more like 10-20% or lower?


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