Team in a Shoe

Diet for Dollars at Work? Seriously?

Believe it or not, “diet for dollars” at work is becoming a thing that some “wellness” industry entrepreneurs are pushing hard. Employee Benefit News just published tips for starting a diet-for-dollars program from a vendor of such things. David Roddenberry, co-founder of HealthyWage and a seller of cash incentive programs for weight loss, says that “pay for pounds wellness” programs are “exploding across America and beyond” because of their “financial upside and the fact that they’re just plain fun.”

Mixed in with his 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.

Unfortunately, this absurdity has nothing to do with health and wellness. Though there’s no disputing that these competitions can prompt short-term weight loss, there’s no evidence whatsoever that they produce long-term benefits. Apart from the folks who “have fun” with these competitions, a significant population of employees can be harmed: people with eating disorders and people who need real evidence-based medical care for obesity. Those people are likely, at best, to be further marginalized by weight loss games. At worst, they can suffer real harm by working in an environment that promotes unhealthy attitudes about weight and dieting.

Most ironically, the promises of rich financial rewards for employers that sponsor these things seem to be false. Al Lewis, who writes widely about corporate wellness programs, says:

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.”

Pamela Hernandez of Thrive Personal Fitness advises her corporate clients to steer clear of diet for dollars contests because they produce “a large number people who feel as though they have failed. They come to hate the weigh ins and perhaps participating in the program altogether. They may be in worse shape after trying to lose weight quickly and they aren’t any closer to being healthier.” Instead, she advises them to “focus on creating a workplace culture of wellness.”

We would add that if employers are serious about reducing the health impact of obesity, they should make sure that their health plans cover evidence-based obesity care. Those that don’t — way too many of them — are positioning themselves to be called out as hypocrites.

Click here if you need to see the “diet for dollars” hucksterism to believe it. Click here for more perspective on office weight loss contests from Pamela Hernandez.

Team in a Shoe, illustration © Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig / flickr

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March 14, 2016

One Response to “Diet for Dollars at Work? Seriously?”

  1. March 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm, Allen Browne said: