citywide weight loss challenges: yay or nay?

citywide weight loss challenges: yay or nay?

fitness, aerobics
Last year, Boston launched a citywide challenge, “Boston Moves for Health”, to lose a boatload of weight–one million pounds, to be exact. The city offered some free exercise classes to aid in the challenge to shed weight, but over halfway through the challenge, the city hadn’t even lost 75,000 pounds! The Wall Street Journal published an article recently discussing Boston’s challenge, other similar campaigns, and the inevitable flop that they all end up becoming. What sounds like an amazing way to get a community engaged in health and well-being ends up being a disorganized, fragmented bust. Where do these programs go wrong?

  • Scope: When planning a campaign such as those mentioned in the article, committee members most likely have romantic images of a united city celebrating their achievements with tears of joy, strangers embracing out of happiness, and citizens sharing their success stories with each other. But the harsh truth to this citywide challenge idea is that the scope is entirely too large. Nowhere did the article mention support meetings for those participating, or healthy eating seminars for the truly motivated. My personal opinion is that in order for true weight loss success, the teams and support groups need to be on a smaller, more intimate level. Do you think Jane who binged on potato chips the night before felt obligated to share with her entire city how she is frustrated with her personal setback? Do you think anyone in said city would have gone out of their way to counsel her and help her get back on track? With smaller groups each member feels personally invested in their peers, and most have probably felt the exact same way at some point in their lives. With a shared goal and shared experiences comes a much more hospitable environment for weight loss success.
  • Accountability: The article mentions the frequent obstacles that everyone faces on the day-to-day–happy hours, birthday parties, office baked-goods (we’ve all been there before!). Along with food temptations, there is also that devil on your shoulder telling you that “you can skip the gym today, it’ll be there tomorrow!” These citywide challenges don’t seem to include individual weigh-ins, and Boston in particular incorporates a log-in account where you track your own diet and exercise. These kinds of track-your-own-progress apps really only work for the super-disciplined with enough time to add in their stats. If participants knew that there would be a tangible weigh-in, on a scale, with an actual human, they may take the challenge more seriously.
  • Accessibility: Boston did have some good ideas. Their website had a calendar of fitness classes throughout the city, as well as info on community resources such as parks and bike paths. I think what could potentially catapult this program into success would be either free access or steep discounts at studios around the city exclusively for participants of the challenge. This way citizens will have more variety to their fitness regimen (leaving no excuses for exercise boredom!), more incentive to sign up and participate in the challenge, and local businesses will attract new clients and wider marketing exposure. Lose weight, spur the local economy?

Taking into account these factors and many more that I didn’t mention above, I think that the best way to engage an entire community in a weight loss challenge is to have teams register to have a healthy competition against each other, with an end goal and reward in mind. It would be of paramount importance to place an emphasis on making nutritious choices and avoiding the starve-myself-and-put-myself-in-danger category. Yes, this program would undoubtedly be more expensive to execute, but it just might actually achieve what it was designed for. Breaking up the town into smaller teams invites the warm support-group aspect that is vital, while keeping the whole community engaged in the competition could successfully inspire a city!

Have any of you seen or participated in a citywide weight loss challenge?

photo credit: LocalFitness | Flickr