The Dark Side of Employer Sponsored Weight Loss Programs

February 07, 2017

Research shows Biggest Loser contests don’t encourage better long-term health. Here are three alternative wellness programs that can improve employee health.

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The workplace biggest loser contest was once considered a way to encourage wellness at work. Now, its name is more literal. Research shows these types of contests, at best, don’t encourage better long-term health and at worst, can harm employees.

Brokers are in a unique position: they can guide clients away from such crash-diet contests and encourage them to choose wellness programs that truly improve the lives of employees — and therefore, employers’ bottom lines.

“A carefully designed study in Health Affairs showed that paying people to lose weight — in any form including contests — fails,” wrote Al Lewis for Employee Benefit News. “And even if some employees did keep some weight off, it won’t affect a company’s financial success.”

Here are three alternative wellness programs that can improve employee health, and in turn, lower related expenses, reduce sick time, and boost productivity.

A Program that Uses Tech to Encourage Healthy Lifestyles

“The newer breed of weight-loss program leverages the latest technology and clinical health tests to keep employees on a more sure-footed path toward improved health,” wrote Lisa McVey for Employee Benefit News. “The Diabetes Prevention Program demonstrated that losing even 5 percent to 7 percent of total body weight can delay and possibly prevent type 2 diabetes,” she wrote. “What the employee should be focused on is not the pounds, but the healthy, sustained behavior change for which weight loss is a byproduct.”

A Mindfulness Program

“A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness is particularly important for developing resilience at work, through its effects on employee physical and psychological health, absenteeism, turnover and in-role performance,” wrote Ruth Wolever for Employee Benefit News. “In workplace samples, mindfulness has been linked to reduced levels of reported burnout, perceived stress, work-family conflict and negative moods, along with better sleep quality.”

A Program that Rewards Health Knowledge

The world of benefits can be confusing to employees. Lewis suggests creating contests that encourage employees to learn about and navigate their health care plans and other benefits. “Perhaps [offering] a multiple-choice health benefit trivia contest where the right answer explains the benefit…could educate employees … and engage them too. Give out incentives for each correct answer, set up a leaderboard and reward the ‘smartest employees.”

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