Fitness Challenge Blog

Tips for Running an Employee Weight Loss Challenge

September 25, 2014 by Joseph

Since my last blog post offered Tips for Running an Employee Walking Challenge, I thought I would follow that up with another popular but very different fitness challenge type: weight loss. While walking challenges do share similarities with weight loss challenges, key differences include:

  • Not everyone in your organization can or should compete in your weight loss competition. If the awards provided are in any way substantial, you may encounter legal discrimination issues.
  • While the number of steps you walked today is not protected information under HIPAA, body weight is. You must ensure that the weight of one employee is not disclosed to another.
  • Weigh-ins can be time-consuming and very difficult to organize.

While these issues may add some complexity to hosting your weight loss challenge, there are some distinct advantages, namely:

  • Weight loss will improve a variety of health problems ranging from knee replacement to diabetes. According to the CDC, even modest weight loss can result in lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
  • Weight loss reduces absenteeism while improving energy levels and self-confidence.
  • Unlike many other forms of fitness competitions, a weight loss challenge will provide solid metrics for measuring wellness program effectiveness. E.g. participants lost a total of 500 pounds means more to executives and insurers than participants walked 500,000 steps.

With the pros and cons out of the way, here are some tips for running an effective employee weight loss challenge:

  • For both legal and ethical reasons, your fitness challenges must be inclusive. Therefore, include additional activities like walking or activity minutes for participants who do not need to lose weight.
  • You must protect the weight data of your employees since this is considered protected health information (PHI) under HIPAA laws. Never show starting and ending weight. Instead, use a percentage to calculate weight loss. For the calculation use: (1 – (Ending Weight / Starting Weight)) X 100
  • You may additionally want to conceal the names of the participants during the weight loss challenge giving only an arbitrary number for other participants on the leaderboard. In this way participants will know where they stand in the ranking but will not know who is ahead or below them.
  • Teams can be used to further obfuscate participant identities as well as provide added motivation for participants. A word of warning though: it has been documented that peer pressure can get intense during this type of challenge. The organizer should make it clear to all team participants that peer encouragement is highly valued while bullying is strictly forbidden.
  • Healthy, slow, progressive weight loss should be encouraged and explained to participants since this type of weight loss tends to remain after the challenge concludes. Losing 1 to 2 pounds per week is a good guideline since it represents a deficit of between 500 and 1000 calories per day. This may seem high but it can usually be accomplished with a reduction in snacking and moderate increase in activity.
  • Weight loss tends to be temporary unless it is also accompanied by lifestyle changes. Once the incentives and other motivating factors cease, so does the progress. While I don’t recommend running back to back weight loss challenges, I would recommend multiple fitness challenges throughout the year and periodically include weight loss and healthy eating activities in those challenges.

As opposed to a typical “winner takes all” challenge, try an individual challenge where any participant who reaches a certain goal wins a smaller award. E.g. any participant who loses 10 pounds wins a $25 gift card to a healthy grocery.

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