At least once per year where I work they offer up a "Biggest Loser" type program where people compete against each other to see who loses the most weight. There is a prize given at the end and the person gets to lord it over their co-workers until….the next context I suppose. These type of things make me want to go and hide for a variety of different reasons:
1) Your total weight is not always a good marker of your health. As I talked about in this post, someone might have a high BMI but have good lean body mass and body fat percentage. Someone else might be at what appears to be a healthy weight and still have issues with inflammation, out of control lipids, or even poor blood pressure control.
2) There are "weight classes" when it comes to boxing and mixed martial arts, but there aren't any "weight classes" for any of the workplace weight loss competitions that I've seen. If your weight loss competition is over a few months, that person who has 50-100# to lose (and is losing!) is going to be "ahead" in the weight loss category over someone who has to lose 5-10# (especially if the very obese person goes on a very low carbohydrate diet they are going to have a huge water weight loss). If the weight loss competition is short term, once again that person who has more to lose is going to come out ahead.
3) Work place weight loss competitions often pit men and women against each other. Many people have observed that men do lose weight faster than women do, and there are genetic and social differences that account for this. Men typically have a genetically higher resting metabolism—the energy required for basic functions of living like chewing food, digestion, and blood circulation. Since men also tend to have a higher percentage of muscle, this also contributes to a higher metabolism. Social reasons that can impede weight loss is that in many households women are still the primary meal preparers (not all households)—the planning of menus, trying new recipes, grocery shopping, and preparing of meals provides a lot more opportunities to nibble/taste and therefore consume more calories. [Link]. I see no logical reason to lump people together in a contest when one group clearly has a metabolic advantage.
4) I feel like the competition atmosphere provides more opportunities for people to sabotage each other instead of helping each other out. Some people might enjoy the challenge of having a co-worker sit a bag of Oreos on their desk, other people find that sabotage just makes them want to drop out. One of things important to changing your eating habits and maintaining weight loss is the support of friends and family. I haven't seen too much support going on in our employee weight loss program. Some of the pranks are good natured between friends, others are downright mean and selfish. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to have people compete against themselves only and form support groups, healthy potlucks, etc?
5) What happens after the contest is over? So if you went on a cabbage soup or other "faddish" diet and lost a bunch of weight for a few weeks, are you really any healthier? Especially if you lost muscle mass by going on the crash diet? Probably not. What if you eat a "healthy" plan that promotes fat loss over muscle mass, but right after the competition's over you go back to your old habits and gain all the weight back? Losing weight is often easy, it's the maintenance that most people have problems with. If you lose a bunch of weight and then gain it all back, you are probably not improving your health.
6) There typically aren't any incentives to keep the weight off. Any follow up competition? Can you get dollars taken off your insurance premiums? Any special workplace recognition if you stay at your goal weight or lose more? Some places do offer end of the year/point accumulation incentives, but once again that's not always the case.
If you are going to help your employees get healthier and maintain their weight loss you can do it by creating a more supportive environment, not by putting people at each other's throats.