Goal of the program – If the program is being ran just because an individual or group wanted it, that isn’t a good reason to promote such an effort. If you are asked to support such an effort put on by individuals within your work groups, first know, this is probably a well-intentioned idea. Stay curious and ask questions but also stay cautious. Inevitably, asking lots of questions in a genuinely curious way, will probably lead the conversation toward what these individual’s intent is, which is almost certainly to improve their own health and the health of those around them. The next step in the conversation should be around the ultimate goal of health, which is not always synonymous with weight loss. The last thing you want is to get into a cycle of sponsoring the same weight loss program annually with the same individuals winning each year; weight cycling is arguable more unhealthy than carrying a small amount of extra weight.
Sustainability of any changes – Competition often brings out our best, and perhaps most intense, efforts. Sometimes this produces extraordinary results and is impressive to witness. This is why we enjoy watching athletes compete so much. It’s also why weight lost through a short term competition is almost never sustainable. Any changes to behaviors that were undergone by participants are probably not sustainable in the long term. Because of this, most people who do lose weight in these ways gain most, all, or even more of that weight back. This is particularly true if well-intentioned participants are left to their own devices, without guidance from a health coach, Dietician, or other health practitioner with training in sustainable behavior change methods. Any changes, whether to individual behavior or workplace environmental, must be sustainable in order to impact employee’s health.
Unintended Consequences – Just like it’s a good idea to identify your desired consequences, AKA your goals for a program, it’s also a good idea to try to identify any potential unintended consequences. Some negative unintended consequences that have happened with worksite wellness programs are broken employee trust and lawsuits for organizations. Both are expensive. Any worksite wellness program, which a company sponsored weight loss program often qualifies as, must be voluntary and inclusive. Voluntary means that any participant must engage without coercion from financial incentives. Any prize cannot be so extensive that an employee would not have participated voluntarily without it. What this means is you need to be very prudent about offering incentives. Inclusive means that anyone needs to be capable of participating. You need to consider every individual in your company and be sure that they are capable of participating. If they’re not, you need to be ready to formulate a reasonable alternative for them based on their personal abilities. Their capabilities are based on theirs and their doctor’s judgement. Also, you may have individuals in your company who have a disability or condition you don’t know about that could pose barriers to them participating.
Alternatives – Instead of challenging participants to lose weight within a given time frame, try these things instead. Consider making the healthy choice the easy choice. This can be done by swapping office candy bowls for fresh fruit baskets, a veggie and hummus tray, or other healthy snacks. Implement walking meetings whenever possible or start a walking club. You can create teams and make this competitive to if you want to take advantage of your group’s competitive nature; assign teams to give every team a chance at winning. You could consider hiring a Certified Personal Trainer to come onsite once or more a week for group exercise classes. Many trainers can offer a class that requires little or no equipment. If you have space, consider starting a worksite garden that allows employees to grow fresh produce. Garden exposure is correlated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables.