HealthyWage is a weight-loss initiative with an interesting twist — participants have bet their own money and stand to gain considerable payouts for losing more than other teams. That “skin in the game,” company 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.

Jimmy Flemming, a HealthyWage cofounder, says all of its programs “are well-suited to the workplace because that’s what they’ve been optimized for.” After years of tailoring to the requests of benefits managers’, the company counts “just about 500 corporate and government clients, including not-quite-50 of the Fortune 500” as users of its unusual service.

“There’s a trend toward using financial incentives, and the problem is most financial incentives are, in our opinion, not structured very well or very thoughtfully,” Flemming says. “And employees are effectively punished for being too fat or for smoking, or rewarded for being thin enough, for not smoking, usually by being able to get a discount on a health insurance premium, or a lower monthly rate. And our philosophy is less about cost-shifting and punishing or rewarding people, and more about trying to use financial incentives to actually achieve behavior change.”

HealthyWage was founded in early 2009, and its objectives and ideology were partially based on research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association the previous December. Employers could well find they pay less (Flemming hastens to point out that his program costs less than Weight Watchers) for better results by using employees’ own money.

Employers are actually discouraged from flipping the bill themselves. Says Flemming: “We instead encourage the company to offer a partial subsidy, so they make it a little less expensive, or to offer a subsidy for, say, the first 200 people to sign up.”

Read more about HealthyWage in the June 1 EBN.

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