Memphis businesses, school systems and individuals are gearing up to participate in the HealthyWage $10,000 Team Weight Loss Challenge, a citywide three-month weight-loss contest beginning Feb. 22 that will reward three top-performing Memphis teams with a total of $18,000.
“Memphis is reported as the fattest city in the country, which for us represents a tremendous opportunity to help a community to slim down,” said HealthyWage co-founder David Roddenberry. “Academic research demonstrates that obesity has spread through social networks and suggests that it will also reverse through social networks. Studies also show that cash rewards can fully triple the effectiveness of weight-loss programs. So, if we’re able to get even 1,000 people to slim down, the benefits of that weight loss will spread enormously through the community.”
Roddenberry sees wellness initiatives as critical for a region where nearly one-third of the population is considered obese and two-third of adults are considered overweight.
“The vision is to make the challenge a community-wide event analogous to a marathon or a large 5K where sponsors connect with and support members of the community who are losing weight,” Roddenberry said. “If we make weight loss fun and exciting, we can reverse the obesity trend.”
Roughly two dozen companies will compete in the challenge, which runs from Feb. 22 through May 17. Confirmed participants include Memphis City Schools, University of Tennessee Health Science Center and First Horizon Bank. The top three winning teams will receive a total of $18,000 in cash prizes – $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $3,000 for third. Members of the community can still join a challenge even if their company is not involved.
This year HealthyWage will hold 16 challenges in communities across the country. During the last four years, HealthyWage has held events in New York, Houston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and St. Louis. The next challenge after Memphis will be in Seattle-Tacoma, Wash.
HealthyWage began offering the challenges four years ago.
“Initially, we offered our challenges through local health clubs as a way to help their members lose weight and have fun at the gym,” Roddenberry said. “We were then approached by companies interested in offering our challenges to their employees as a corporate wellness solution. We thought it would be fun to match rivals or local companies up and have those companies compete.”
Participants in the team challenges throughout the U.S. have realized a median weight loss of 4.6 percent, and more than 40 percent of participants lose more than 5 percent of their body weight. The recently released “F as in Fat” report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that Tennessee could save nearly $14 billion if the state reduced its body mass index by 5 percent.
Interestingly, the best weight loss results have been found in community challenges. Participants are more successful when their larger social network gets involved in the challenge. Communities also motivate participants with support with making good daily decisions such as discounts on healthy meals, free gym group classes and local running clubs, for example.
“The challenge is supported financially by three sources of revenue: participant fees, company fees among those that are using the program as a corporate wellness solution, and sponsorship by businesses looking to support and connect with participants losing weight in a challenge,” Roddenberry said.
Large employers will join in the HealthyWage Team Challenge in a “Company vs. Company” division where they will compete against other organizations throughout the area in an attempt to have their employees lose the most weight. Teams of five will compete for the greatest percentage of weight lost.
The registration fee is $75 for each participant, who will weigh in at the beginning and end of the contest at a local health club or create a private YouTube video of themselves on the scale to verify their weight.
Participants qualify for $100 cash if they start with a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 30 and achieve a BMI below 25 after one year. HealthyWage discourages unhealthful tactics by limiting the 12-week weight loss to 16.59 percent of starting body weight.
The HealthyWage challenge is one of several weight loss initiatives under way early this year. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s second annual Healthy Church Challenge 100-day weight loss competition kicked off Feb. 2, with prizes worth more than $5,000 for those who shed the most pounds.