Employers and individuals, alike, should consider the following when looking to start a pay-for-pounds wellness program:

[Image credit: Bloomberg]
[Image credit: Bloomberg]

1. Prize funding. Where does the prize money come from? Is it guaranteed and, if so, how is it guaranteed? Know how employees are being paid for their success, and the safeguards that have been put into place to guarantee payout when the time comes. Also important is to know when payments will be made and the options for receiving those prizes, noting any fees involved or possible causes for delay. If the organization you’re dealing with does not have quick and upfront answers to these questions, it may be wise to move along.

2. Tools and accountability. A large part of weight-loss success, with or without financial incentives, are the tools and accountability measures provided along the way. What tools, resources and overall support mechanisms does the organization or program offer to help employees be successful? An initiative lacking in resources and/or any sort of accountability program may not have your workers’ weight-loss best interest in mind. Don’t discount what is (or is not) provided for your benefit — to ultimately facilitate your employees’ success — during the diet process.

3. Verified weigh-ins. A process for verifying weight both at the start and finish of a challenge-driven program, whether through a third-party or some other clearly defined protocol, is essential for eliminating fraudulent participants and ensuring payout when it’s is due. If there is no verification or audit process in place, or the established process can be easily undermined, the program and its reward are most likely too good to be true.

4. Better Business Bureau. It’s prudent to always check with the Better Business Bureau before doing business with any online company (or most any other company, for that matter). Check the rating — nothing less than an "A" should be acceptable. If there are complaints, make sure they've been resolved and read through the corresponding information that the company has provided in response to any issue before moving forward.

5. Credible testimonials and reviews. Both corporate partner and actual participant testimonials will speak volumes when it comes to the legitimacy of the organization you are dealing with. Media coverage should also be considered. What media outlets are covering the organization, and are any high profile? And, what exactly do they have to say about the programs being offered? Look for testimonials from Fortune 500 companies, major national magazines, top-tier newspapers and major network TV coverage.

6. Experts. Who is behind the company and the programs offered? While most organizations will tout the body of research highlighting the effectiveness of employing financial incentives and penalties for inducing weight-loss, dig a little deeper to understand the background of those designing and contributing to the actual weight-loss programming. Industry experts, physicians and researchers should be present, either on staff or in advisory roles.

7. Third-party products. Should not even be a consideration. If the organization you are working with requires you to purchase outside supplements, accessories, food or any other products in order for you to win the prize for weight loss, keep moving as there are likely ulterior motives and additional costs at hand.

8. Extra/hidden fees. Like third-party products, there should be no additional or hidden fees beyond what is paid up front (or via a clearly outlined installment payment plan). Fees to “unlock” features, to reveal standings or receive winnings are an indicator that something may be fishy — or at the very least that facilitating employees’ success is sadly cash-conditional.

9. Charitable relationships. If a company indicates that they donate to a charity based on employee weight loss or success in their program, make sure you fully investigate those claims before signing on the proverbial dotted line. Is the charity itself legitimate? How much do the charities actually receive? Do the charities list the organization as an official donor? Is it a charity that aligns with your personal values? Does the charity itself make sure that the donations reach the intended recipients? Research everything to make sure everyone is on the up and up, not just playing on your heart strings.

10. Dedicated support. Make sure the organization has customer support available and is responsive to employee questions before getting started. Whether by email, by phone, or both — a live person should be prompt, courteous and knowledgeable about the product.

Further, if you're a business owner, HR, benefits or other professional looking to partner with a dieting-for-dollars organization for a group initiative, there should be a step beyond customer support to make sure the endeavor is fruitful. Having an account manager dedicated to the success of your company and proactive throughout process is essential. Your account manager should provide you with polished and professional marketing materials to promote the program among employees, as well as best practices for improving enrollment. They should remain involved from roll-out through wrap-up and reporting, and available to answer any and all questions you may have about the program before, during and after.

11. Transparency. Stats and standings are a necessity. If employees are not able to track their progress toward their goal, or see how close they are to achieving their prize, something is amiss.

For business groups, the company-side administrator should have insight into the program whether through an employer dashboard or other reporting process. Key metrics may include how well the employees are performing and how much cost-savings or other benefits have accrued as a direct result of participation. From enrollment to overall weight-loss, analytics and performance should be transparent from the start.

Given the financial upside and the fact that they’re just plain fun, it’s no wonder that diet competitions and weight-loss betting programs are exploding across America and beyond. However, a touch of due diligence for the considerations above is critical before you pay to play, or you just might be left with a bad taste in your mouth.

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