The Finish Line Where Everything Just Ends

A Stupid Weight Loss Contest at Work: It’s Not Wellness

NBC canceled The Biggest Loser for good reasons, but Schlumberger doesn’t seem to care. Yesterday, this oil industry employer kicked off a $10,000 workplace weight loss contest. They might be telling themselves they’re promoting employee wellness. But they would be wrong.

At Best Counterproductive, Dangerous for Some

The Biggest Loser was a controversial spectacle from the very beginning. In 2010, LiveScience summarized expert opinions quite well. “Physicians and nutritionists worry the show’s focus on competitive weight loss is, at best, counterproductive and, at worst, dangerous.”

Weight is an intensely personal matter. Everyone’s body is wired differently. Some people struggle from a very early age with excess weight. Others struggle with eating disorders. And then, some – a shrinking number these days – have no issues whatsoever.

So, in the face of such a huge range of personal weight and health considerations, a one-size-fits-all weight loss contest makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. For someone who struggles with weight, it can become just one more cycle that ends in failure. For someone with an eating disorder, it verges on public humiliation. “Why don’t you join in the fun?”

For people in recovery from an eating disorder, that concern is quite serious.

A Hostile Work Environment?

The most common defense for these stupid and potentially harmful contests is that “people have fun with them.” Well, you don’t have read many headlines to figure out that one person’s idea of fun can be another person’s definition of hell. For some, weight loss contests indeed create a work environment hostile to their health. It’s especially true for people with longstanding issues related to weight and health.

And thus, the Code of Conduct for Ethical Wellness discourages such programs at work:

Research shows that the vast majority of people who participate in weight loss programs will eventually gain their weight back after the program ends. Many will also gain back more than they lose. The weight cycling that occurs with repeated participation in weight loss programs may have negative effects on their health.

If a company is serious about the wellness of all employees, it doesn’t need the problems that these weight loss contests bring. A few people have fun at the expense of others and their health. That’s a lousy deal.

Click here for more on the Schlumberger contest and here for more perspective on workplace weight loss contests.

The Finish Line Where Everything Just Ends, photograph © Amy Siân Green / flickr

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January 23, 2018

4 Responses to “A Stupid Weight Loss Contest at Work: It’s Not Wellness”

  1. January 23, 2018 at 8:20 am, Al Lewis said:

    Great post. These are marketed to corporations on the basis of being “just plain fun” .

    Using that logic, why not have a drinking contest?

    Someone suggested a goldfish-swallowing contest, not that I want to give these perps any ideas. (They’d probably argue those are high in protein.)

  2. January 23, 2018 at 1:33 pm, tom emerick said:

    Great comment Al

  3. January 24, 2018 at 11:01 am, Dayna said:

    “Some people struggle from an early age with excess weight.” Say what? The struggle is with a society that views weight as being excessive.

    Views like the one voiced in this piece reinforce the idea that fatness is bad and wind up promoting an argument for Intentional weight loss programs. The author needs to be aware of their bias against fat people and work to correct it.

    • January 24, 2018 at 4:47 pm, Ted said:

      Dayna, I respect your view and agree completely with your perspective that weight bias is a serious problem causing tremendous harm. Eliminating weight bias and stigma is an important and primary goal.