Being labeled the biggest loser in junior high is generally not a good thing.
But for Ryan Martin, a teacher's aide at Glen Crest Middle School in Glen Ellyn, being the "Biggest Loser" is a great thing. Martin dropped 28 pounds over eight weeks to win the School District 89 employee "Biggest Loser" competition in March.
His reward: Bragging rights plus $300 cash and the motivation to stay in shape.
The Glen Ellyn school district is just one employer these days edging employees toward living healthier, leaner lives, and "Biggest Loser" competitions, fashioned after the popular TV show, are one way they're doing it. Corporations are also replacing doughnuts with fruit, offering in-house yoga classes, sponsoring walkathons, building walking paths, sending healthy tips via email, and lowering health insurance premiums for employees who take health screenings.
And, for the most part, employees are eating it up.
Kelly Nordlund, a physical education teacher at Glen Crest, suggested the "Biggest Loser" competition to fellow members of the district's employee wellness committee.
Employees in the district's five schools and administration building had the chance to join in February, knowing the eight-week competition would end just in time for spring break. Sixty-seven of the district's 250 employees paid $15 to take part, which organizers said went toward prizes and helped ensure a true commitment to the program.
Each school formed a team, but individuals weighed in privately with their school nurse each Friday morning. Scores were based on percentage of body weight lost instead of pounds lost. Martin lost 15.1 percent of his weight.
Each member of the wellness committee also took one week to educate the entire district on topics like stress management, exercise, and portion control, so all employees could benefit whether they were participating in the contest or not.
"We've been happy with the outcome and what I found really interesting was that even those who weren't participating appreciated having the educational information," Nordlund said. "We had some people take part not because they needed to lose weight, but because they felt it would give them the incentive to get in better shape."
Now that the eight weeks are over and a total of 500 pounds have been lost, many have chosen to do it all again. "Biggest Loser: The Sequel" started April 1.
Martin said the competition was just enough to spur him into action and move forward on plans to train for a half Ironman competition.
"I've been eating better and watching portion size. Lots of chicken breasts and vegetables," he said.
"I was working out before, but I would eat whatever I wanted. I wasn't gaining, but I wasn't losing despite working out," he said. "It's good to not be in the battle alone. Plus a lot of people at work seem like they are in a better mood since this started."
Employees at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest are involved in a similar "Win to Lose" competition, said Kim Dwyer, vice president of benefit services at Advocate Health Care.
"Our goal is for people to manage, maintain or improve their health," said Dwyer. "Being healthy is not always about addressing the sickest of the sick. Keeping people aware of their own health status is important. "
Healthy options in vending machines, discounts on fitness equipment and meal planning services, personal health coaches, walking paths around the buildings, and free screenings are all part of the health care company's plan to encourage healthier employees.
"The challenge is finding what resonates with an individual," Dwyer said. "Eighty-three percent of our employees are female, and people in the health industry are in very stressful jobs. A good portion of them go home and then take care of family before themselves," she said. "Making healthy meals, getting exercise is not their highest priority. They are pressured for time."
Dwyer estimates that 15-20 percent of Advocate employees are also smokers, and beginning Jan. 1, employees who fail the tobacco-free test will see a $25 surcharge added to their insurance premiums.
"If they do smoke, we're going to help them quit," she said.