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The Best-Ever Argument for Ending Corporate Weight Loss Challenges

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

You may be paying employees to do exactly the opposite of what you want them to do: you may be dramatically increasing their risk of heart attacks and dying, instead of reducing the odds, which are already very low.

Consumer Reports has discovered a dangerous drug, a molecule closely related to the banned ephedrine, in many weight-loss and performance enhancement supplements sold over the counter. Ephedrine was responsible for the death of a Baltimore Oriole, and has been implicated in other cases as well.

This drug is not found in most weight-loss supplements.  The worst you can say about most weight-loss supplements (which don’t need FDA approval because they aren’t “drugs”) is they are worthless, but not harmful.

By contrast, these other supplements shouldn’t be allowed to be sold at all…and yet they are among the most popular of all weight loss aids. Why? Because they “work.”

The fact that they work is precisely why you shouldn’t be running weight-loss contests.  Putting money on the line for weight loss is one excellent way to encourage people to do things — and in this case, take things — that they wouldn’t take if left to their own devices.

The obvious way to avoid this problem in the first place is simply not to hold weight-loss “challenges.” Regardless of what ShapeUp and Wellness Corporate Solutions say to protect their revenue streams, these contests are a fabulously stupid idea to begin with. “Weight-cycling” may be hazardous to health and is certainly not beneficial to it.  However, if for some reason you feel compelled to run this type of contest — perhaps because a Healthywage salesperson sold you on it without mentioning the hazards — you need to ban drugs containing the specific ingredient(s) named in the report.

An if there is enough money on the line (and these days there needs to be, in order to get employees’ attention), naming the banned drugs may paradoxically increase their attractiveness. Therefore you would have to do blood tests to enforce this ban. And of course once you start paying for drug testing, on top of what you pay to HealthyWage or ShapeUp, the magnitude of your negative ROI is multiplied.

Which brings me back to the original point: why do these contests at all?  Surely there is some wellness activity you can run that won’t harm employees and isn’t worthless. Not harming employees doesn’t seem like too high a hurdle for a wellness program.

Here is a random suggestion: try Quizzify instead. No one has ever been harmed learning how to avoid being harmed.


1 Comment

  1. drjonrobison says:

    Great piece! – And here is a discussion of what organizations can do instead to avoid the weight cycling and really help employees who are struggling with weight and eating-related concerns! – – Dr. Jon –


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