Jon Whicker had a weight-loss problem. The finance manager and father of two from Utah, who at his heaviest weighed in at about 400 pounds, had joined a dieting competition with some family members. Several weeks in, things were going great until Whicker, 37, encountered an unusual dilemma: He had lost too much too quickly.

HealthyWage is a weight-loss initiative with an interesting twist — participants have bet their own money and stand to gain considerable payouts — but for health and safety reasons they place limits on shed poundage in a given timeframe, limits Whicker had broken. For the $10,000 prize Matchup competition, rules cap loss at 16.59% of starting weight over a 12-week period.

“I maxed out,” Whicker says. “I was 1% above that, like 17%.” Many people would call that an enviable problem, and indeed Whicker could sense success.

“Once that competition was over, I wanted to keep going; I wasn’t ready to stop yet, so I actually got a group of people from my office to do it with me,” he says. “So we competed in a second challenge in which I lost 16.4% of my body weight.”

That’s of his new starting body weight. All told, Whicker has lost 125 lbs. and gained $2,200 through the HealthWage programs, and he’s not done — he wants to get rid of another 50.

“Having some skin in the game encourages you not to give up, that is for sure,” Whicker says. “I could see teams giving up if they really hadn’t put any money out there. For me, just the competition keeps me motivated.”

That “skin in the game,” HealthyWage officials say, is significantly more of a motivator than the traditional incentives that employers offer with weight-loss programs. The wagered risk (and competitive nature) of betting on your own diet and exercise is seeing marked success, they report. HealthyWage officials says they offer a 49% and 29% success rates, respectively, for 5%+ and 10%+ weight loss.

HealthyWage offers three basic competition formats, all of which it says suit the workplace perfectly: The Matchup, in which teams of five compete together to lose the most weight (again, up to 16.59%); the 10% Challenge, where participants can double their money if they lose 10% of their body weight in six months; and the BMI Challenge, which rewards achieving a healthy body mass index.

Read more about HealthyWage and what this and similar programs can offer employers in Monday’s  inBrief. Full coverage on HealthyWage will be in the June 1 EBN.

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