I am often asked by challenge administrators how to prevent participants from cheating in a wellness challenge. My response is always the same: DON’T. The problem with trying to prevent cheating is that most challenges depend on self-reported data and the ones that don’t are generally onerous to administer or have low participation potential. In this post, we will explore why you should stop worrying about cheating and learn to enjoy the challenge!
I have helped administer thousands of fitness challenges over the years and many admins have tried to put systems in place to eliminate cheating. For example, a walking challenge will prohibit manual entry and enforce automatic syncing from fitness trackers or a weight loss challenge will have supervised weigh-ins. While these may seem like solid rules for keeping the challenge participants honest, there are far too many ways to get around them.
How can someone cheat if they are using automatic tracker syncing? This one is extremely easy… Participants can manually enter data directly into most tracker apps or they can attach the tracker to their pet’s collar or tape it to a drill or anything else in motion. In some cases, they will put their tracker on their kids while they are playing a sport like basketball or soccer; the options are literally limitless. If you are just trying to trick a tracker for an active-minutes challenge, that is even easier: just go for a ride on a four-wheeler or other rough-riding vehicle and watch the minutes pile up.
For more information on deceptive tracker practices, please see this Wall Street Journal video on How to Cheat on Your Fitness Tracker. Before you say the Wall Street Journal used an older tracker for the article and the newer models are more accurate, I have tried the same tests on current models from the most popular brands and they are just as easy to trick. I am not writing this to expose trackers as a fraud or show participants how to cheat. I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of fitness trackers, but they are designed to help improve user’s health and not necessarily to prevent the user from purposefully entering erroneous data. Anyone who visits YouTube and types in something like: “fitness tracker cheating” will receive countless videos instructing how to do just that.
OK, so you can outsmart a tracker but how can you beat a weigh-in? This one is a little harder, but it is similar to how you get those wonderful before and after photos for weight loss products… My family is genetically slender. Not great when you are me being picked on as a skinny boy, but my sisters always seemed to enjoy being innately thin. My sister’s employer runs an annual weight-loss challenge and the prize is worth several hundred dollars. Naturally, my inherently slender sister would proceed to gain 20 pounds before the weigh-in and then lose it all to win the grand prize. In the process of winning, she circumvents the whole point of the challenge and manages to get her coworkers to hate her.
We could explore various other challenge types and how to easily cheat on even the tightest controls, but I’ll skip to the point: you CANNOT prevent participants from cheating! Stop trying because your efforts will only keep the honest people from cheating and infuriate them when they figure out that others are cheating. It's a lot like locking your car doors: it only keeps honest people from stealing your radio. To make matters worse, those who figure out how to cheat will be more brazen about it since their cheating is being validated by the administrator’s anti-cheating controls.
The best thing you can do when creating a wellness challenge is to design it in such a way as to reduce the effects of cheating and / or remove the incentive to cheat. In the next post, I will discuss some methods we have used to reduce cheating and its impact on the challenge.Next >>