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Weight Loss “Challenges” Produce a Culture of Deceit, Not a Culture of Health

It turns out that HealthyWage’s “dieting for dollars” scheme, that I posted on yesterday, isn’t as bad as I thought.  Apparently not all employees binge before the initial weigh-in, though many do.   The good news is, some employees merely cheat!  Here is how ConscienHealth describes it:

Mixed in with [HealthyWage’s] sales pitch is the smallest germ of truth. If you ignore the people that these programs harm and alienate, you can find employees who have fun with weight loss competitions. They form a team, pack on pounds before the competition starts, and revel in extreme dieting for the short-term results that these programs reward. We’ve seen people wear heavy clothes and carry rolls of coins for their initial weigh-in. Drink a two liter diet soda before you weigh in and you have a 4.4-pound advantage.

Sounds like rather than a “culture of health,” HealthyWage is proposing a “culture of deceit.” And HealthyWage isn’t alone. ShapeUp (now part of VirginPulse) and Wellness Corporate Solutions are also major promoters of get-thin-quick schemes.

Score another harm for the wellness industry.  In future days I’ll be posting a comprehensive list of all the harms, direct and indirect, that “pry, poke and prod” programs, plus “dieting for dollars” have created in the corporate world. Hopefully there will be enough space on the internet.


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

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?







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