Winning for losing
Kiosk-based program pays cash for lost pounds
BY PETER JONES
A few years ago, Phil and Mary were looking for something to do.
“I retired and she just quit,” Phil said with a laugh.
The Centennial couple never had much time for diets before, but without careers or commutes to worry about anymore, the two could finally squeeze a little organized healthy discipline into their post-career schedules.
Once a week, one can still find them lining up at a kiosk at Goodson Recreation Center—not to buy energy drinks or sign up for yoga classes—but to weigh-in with a password and a few clicks of a button.
“Both of us had weight to lose,” Phil said. “We had high blood pressure and wanted to exercise and get rid of the weight. We’re still working on it—at least, I am.”
The couple, who asked that The Villager not use their last name, has had their share of health challenges. Phil, 70, has suffered from a low thyroid. Mary, 58, had a stroke in 2014 after years of undiagnosed high blood pressure.
If the health benefits of losing extra pounds were not enough, the couple—believe it or not— actually gets paid for meeting their goals through a program aptly titled Weigh and Win.
A project of nonprofit Kaiser Permanente, Weigh and Win is a free computer-based platform designed to help Coloradans lose weight by way of virtual health coaches, weigh-ins at more than 90 computerized kiosks across the state and quarterly cash rewards.
“I just said, this is cool,” Mary said. “Every week got me motivated.”
Phil and Mary are among the 77,000 participants who currently receive daily emails or text messages with personalized tips on healthy eating and active living. Coaching includes daily meal and exercise plans, grocery lists and more.
Participant progress is tracked at kiosks—stationed everywhere from Littleton to Yuma—for quarterly weigh-ins, where full-body photographs are taken and participants can track their progress over months and years.
According to Weigh and Win, the average weight loss after one year is 8 percent or about 18 pounds with nearly half of participants achieving a 5 percent or more improvement after six months.
Since starting Weigh and Win in 2011, Phil has gone from 235 to 210 and is aiming for 190. Mary started out at 210 and now hovers around 152.
The idea is to create a measurable system that holds people accountable.
“It is push-based health coaching that has a lot of behavioral science embedded in it,” said Lia Schoepke, who manages Weigh and Win through Incenta Health, the health-tech company that holds the technology’s patent.
Schoepke says Weigh and Win is individualized for optimum effect.
“We’re going to ask you to tell us your journey so far. What has been your struggle? We coach to help overcome your barriers and remind you of your motivators,” she said. “They can tell us they’re vegetarian. They can tell us they prefer to work out at home, instead of a gym. They can tell us they’re at an intermediate fitness level, rather than beginner or advanced. All of these things tailor the coaching.”
According to Phil, the experience is user-friendly.
“When you get on the scale, it takes your picture. We can scroll back to where we started and it graphs your progress,” he said, noting his own long series of before-and-after photos.
The couple has found particular benefit in the personalized texts and emails.
“It’s like a library,” Phil said. “How to do certain exercises. There are clips where you can see somebody doing it. Or tips about the grocery store. Around the perimeter is where you should shop because that’s where the dairy, meat and unprocessed foods are.”
Direct inquiries to Weigh and Win’s health coaches are typically returned within 24 hours.
As for the pot of gold at the end of the end of a shapelier rainbow, don’t quit your job just yet. For the 80-plus pounds Phil and Mary have lost collectively, the couple has taken home about $300 over several years—not bad, but this is not TV’s The Biggest Loser.
“What the money does is get people to the scale,” Schoepke explained. “The scale is the point where we can capture the data on the behavior change.”
Monthly drawings and gift cards are also part of the experience for winners—err, losers.
Meanwhile, Weigh and Win is not done getting its own technological body into shape. Before long, the program will offer an all-home version that will allow participants to weigh themselves on a Bluetooth scale in coordination with their smartphones.
To be eligible, a person must be at least 18 and have a body-mass index greater than 25. From there, participants are free to continue in the program for as long as they want, though they are no longer eligible for financial benefits when their BMI hits below 25.
Neither Phil nor Mary has hit that benchmark yet. In the meantime, the couple plans to continue their winning for losing.
“It’s just part of life now,” Phil said.
To join or for more information, visit weighandwin.com.
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