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‘The Biggest Loser’ Winner Debate and What It Means for Wellness

Continue dangling those healthy carrots if you must, but if you really want your wellness program to work, consider investing in some professional help, too.

February 6, 2014
Related Topics: Benefit Design and Communication, Health and Wellness, Health Care Benefits, Benefits

Does your wellness program consist of dangling carrots alone? If so, then let me weigh in.

As you might know, social media is abuzz with criticisms that the latest winner of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” went overboard with her weight loss. She went from 260 pounds to 105, losing almost 60 percent of her body weight by eating 1,600 calories a day and working out “a ton.”

Glower if you must, but “The Biggest Loser” is no different from any other reality show that dangles big cash prizes in front of contestants’ faces. The only way to “win” “The Biggest Loser” is to “lose” a bigger percentage of weight than the competition.

If you haven’t seen it, the show brings in obese and morbidly obese people for intense training that includes exercise and teaching healthy eating habits so unhealthy people can become fit. The person who is the biggest loser then wins big money. The overall winner gets $250,000 and there’s a secondary prize of $100,000 for the, ahem, loser who loses the biggest percentage of weight after being voted out of the game. So to say the winner, Rachel Frederickson, went too far is ridiculous. Does she look “too thin”? Maybe, but who am I to judge? She was playing a game, and she was playing it to win. If you think it sends the wrong message, then don’t watch. It’s a little presumptuous to assume an eating disorder.

My problem with “The Biggest Loser” is not that people can lose too much weight, but that it is a competition. If you really want to train people for a TV show to live healthier lifestyles, go for it, but then get a group together and train them in a “Real World”-style environment where, at least in theory, everyone who sticks to the program wins and no one loses. Don’t turn it into a competition where Contestant A gets sent home in week one and isn’t privy to the same training as the others.

I liken it to dangling carrots in wellness programs. For example, if you take a health risk assessment, you get $50 off your health insurance costs. That’s all fine and good, but it’s just one step. If you really want people to change their lifestyles, like quitting smoking or losing weight, you need to teach and train them and continue to support them. It takes more than dishing out a few bucks.

I’ve heard of workers who have done their own “Biggest Loser” challenge at work with everyone kicking in a little money to give to the overall winner. In theory that sounds good, but dieting for three or six months to win a competition is a lot different than saying, “This is the way I want to live for the rest of my life.”

Continue dangling those healthy carrots if you must, but if you really want your wellness program to work — and potentially to cut your health care costs — you should consider investing in some professional help, a Jillian Michaels if you will, to help the staff. It’s what private equity firm HGGC did.

I’m all for wellness programs, but being the biggest winner in that game might take crunching those carrots a little differently.

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