Incentives help workers lose weight on the job

Dr. Arya Sharma, of the Canadian Obesity Network, says the program is an interesting one. “There is some evidence it may produce some lasting weight loss in… Read this article on with photos

Incentives help workers lose weight on the job

Updated Mon. Sep. 3 2007 11:03 PM ET News Staff

The battle of the bulge is moving into the workplace, where a computerized service is encouraging some staff members to lose weight and earn cash rewards.

The Pure Metal Galvanizing plant in Brampton, Ont., has adopted the service, called Lifescale. So far, 10 employees — mostly office staff — have signed on, including Tim Carr.

He’s already lost 39 pounds, down from his high of 240 pounds not long ago. Carr says he now eats better, has quit smoking, and exercises — running 45 minutes daily and lifting weights.

He checks his progress on a Lifescale that has been installed in a boardroom at the plant. The computer calculates his weight, body fat and Body Mass Index.

“If I come in and I’m up a pound, I know to work harder,” he says. “I look forward to coming here every week at getting on that scale.”

The data from the Lifescale is sent to a central computer that then emails the company reports on how their employees are doing. The employees themselves receive reports in the form of weekly, bi-weekly or monthly emails. Data is kept anonymous, though the employer can track trends.

Deb Boland says she’s lost about 25 pounds in the three years that the company has had the machine.

“I’ve decided to eat better and walk three times a week,” she says.

Every weigh-in and every pound lost earns employees points towards a $100 gift certificate. Pure Metal gives its employees gift certificates to Future Shop, but it varies according to company. Some employees even choose to compete against one another.

Employers are finding that the service offers a great incentive to get in shape

“On average, they’ve lost 10 pounds over the last few years,” reports Pure Metal vice-president of operations, Dennis Gower.

Even if employees haven’t lost weight, just getting on the scale earns them points.

“They’ve stepped on the scales about 1,500 times. They’re pretty dedicated,” says Gower, who has lost 14 pounds himself since the machine was brought in.

The Lifescale is based on the reality that we spend a lot of time on the job. Companies also know that healthy and fit staffers need less sick time, use fewer health benefits and are happier workers.

The company that developed Lifescale, Global Diagnostics, says it has about a dozen companies in the U.S. and Canada online so far.

“And we are growing rather quickly because of the new recognition of the value of investing in the health of employees,” says Global Diagnostics’ Emerson Segura.

The key to the product’s success in helping employees lose weight seems to be the regular weigh-ins. Many who get on the scales have their eyes opened.

“I never weighed myself. I maintained I would be this weight forever. Nothing was going to change –until I started this,” says Tom Freijlich, who works at a Campbell’s Soup factory that has also adopted the program.

Freijlich has lost 12 pounds in the last six months and is now focusing on losing body fat, collecting gift certificates along the way.

“It’s corrected my eating habits. I was a really bad eater,” he admits.

Fanny Karolev, the manager of health and wellness at the Campbell’s Company of Canada plant in Toronto, says the program has been a great success.

“Our employees have lost 800 pounds in total,” she reports. That’s why Campbell’s plans to buy more Lifescales for other plants.

Dr. Arya Sharma, of the Canadian Obesity Network, says the program is an interesting one.

“There is some evidence it may produce some lasting weight loss in people. But because obesity is a chronic disease, the minute you remove the incentives, the weight might come back,” he warns.

Still, it offers employees a new reason to go to work and get paid to eat healthy.