Lose Weight as a Team – New Study Reinforces Health Enhancement Systems Program Design

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New evidence finds financial incentives for weight loss are more effective when based on group vs. individual results. This study reinforces the team wellness approach taken by Health Enhancement Systems in the NutriSum worksite wellness challenge.

NutriSum: Research Driven Employee Weight Loss Challenge

Team wellness challenges, like NutriSum, are more effective than challenges based on individual performance, regardless of incentives.

The evidence is clear that financial rewards don’t improve long-term health behaviors.

The study revealed that when rewards are based on the group’s performance rather than just the individual’s outcome, participants lose substantially more weight.

“We’re not surprised,” remarks Dean Witherspoon, President and founder of Health Enhancement Systems, which develops popular online wellness challenges like NutriSum, Colorful Choices, and Le Tour de Fitness. “We have more than 20 years of experience with team-based wellness challenges, and a recent review of our 2009-2012 programs without the influence of financial rewards highlights the strong advantage of team challenges over individual efforts.”

Health Enhancement Systems findings include:

  • 24% increase in participation when team participation is offered
  • 53% increase in evaluation completion for individuals on teams vs. those participating on their own
  • 57% increase in achievement of health goal for those on teams vs. those participating on their own.

When done well, team-based wellness challenges and buddy features are naturally fun and social, infusing the hard work of behavior change with a sense of enjoyment and play. The shared experience of working together toward a challenging goal strengthens relationships, bolsters accountability, and gives each member a tremendous amount of support.

A Health Enhancement Systems white paper — Team Wellness Challenges: Energizing Engagement, Inspiring Change — highlights related business, social, and health research. It underscores the great potential of a team-based approach for enhancing wellness program effectiveness:

  • The power of a positive influence. Simply observing others working toward a goal can motivate people to pursue the same goal, whether or not they realize it. This effect is most potent when people share a group.
  • All together now. By aiming for similar wellness goals — such as being more active or eating more produce — wellness team members reinforce the behaviors in each other. Because team success requires individual success, members become mutually accountable for staying on track.
  • Contributing to something larger. There’s a reason community volunteering and sports teams are so widespread. People enjoy working alongside others with similar interests to reach a target — and feel they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. It happens in the workplace, too. Studies show that employees are more likely to make a positive contribution to the organization if they’re part of a team and feel their work plays a role in group performance.
  • A sense of belonging. In addition to autonomy and competence, a strong kindred feeling is a key element of intrinsic motivation, whether for work performance or wellness behaviors. Team membership cultivates group identification and cohesiveness — and keeps the goals in focus.
  • Better wellness engagement and outcomes. A statewide team-based program resulted in weight loss (.8-1.2 BMI units), with obesity falling from 39% to 31% by the end of the study. In reviewing the literature on weight loss competitions, researchers concluded that team competition was more effective than individual competition in improving both participation and weight loss outcomes.
  • Built-in social support. A 10-month weight loss study found recruiting people along with 3 friends in a strong social support intervention decreased the number of dropouts — and pushed up the percentage of those maintaining weight loss over 6 months — compared to those recruited alone. Team members also had a 33% greater weight loss at 10 months than those recruited alone.

NutriSum taps the power of teams to promote sustainable weight loss. Participants earn daily points by practicing healthy eating and activity patterns. It’s a simple approach with wide appeal — no calorie counting, no fat gram tabulating, no weighing or measuring. Just easy-to-remember, everyday habits, based on 5000 successful participants in the National Weight Control Registry. A fun-to-use tracker, delicious recipes, daily tips, and other resources help keep motivation high. And the friendly team competition makes the challenge of behavior change both exciting and rewarding.

“While adding cash to the equation of team-based wellness interventions can appear to be a success driver,” says Witherspoon, “you run the risk of changing the internal dynamic from this is something I want to do for my team and myself to I’m doing this for the money. And while that may work in the short term, the evidence is clear that financial rewards don’t improve long-term health behaviors.”

For more information, download Team Wellness Challenges: Energizing Engagement, Inspiring Change and How Financial Incentives/Disincentives Undermine Wellness at http://www.hesonline.com/whitepapers.


Health Enhancement Systems creates employee wellness programs for organizations in North America and throughout the world. More than 20 effective, engaging HES wellness campaigns have been adopted by over a thousand organizations — serving hundreds of thousands of participants successfully.

For more information about Health Enhancement Systems, visit http://www.HealthEnhancementSystems.com or call 800.326.2317.

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Dean Witherspoon
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