Personal Health|September 17, 2012 7:00 AM

Cash for pounds

Free program pays Coloradans to lose weight

Database manager Clint Findley of Lafayette, exercising at his office, has been paid to lose 50 lbs. on the Weigh and Win program, which is free and open to anyone in Colorado. Photo by Paul Aiken/Boulder Daily Camera.

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Thousands of Coloradans are being paid to lose weight, in a free program open to anyone in the state.

The payments of $15 to $150 have persuaded some 23,000 residents to sign up for the program called Weigh and Win. It’s meant to help reduce the extra weight sapping the health of half the state’s residents.

“I weigh 50 lbs. less than when I started” 10 months ago, said Clint Findley, a 911 database manager from Lafayette. He now regularly works up a sweat lifting weights, biking and doing pushups. The program sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, also texts him tips on healthy eating and exercise. They are tailored for the challenges he identified when he signed up.

“It’s helped me change my behavior,” Findley said. He now substitutes nuts and raisins for snacks of ice cream and M&Ms, and often works out in his basement with yoga and other strength-building exercises that require no equipment.

Findley has been paid only $15 for his first quarter of success in the program and $30 per quarter after that. “I’m not going to be able to afford Harvard for my kid,” he joked. But with encouraging messages and regular weigh-ins at one of 40 kiosks set up across the state, “it seemed like someone was watching,” he said.

“It’s not just me, in my bathroom” looking at the progress on the scale, he said.

About the same time he started the program, Findley also discovered he had a thyroid issue affecting his weight. He’s trying a gluten-free diet, which gives him an excuse to refuse sweet treats.

Kaiser Permanente is paying for the program for anyone in the state, along with the $68,000 in rewards to date, as a community health project. Katie Hamilton, the Weigh and Win manager, described the program as a highly automated, relatively low-cost way to tackle Colorado’s obesity problem.

Weigh and Win Tips

#6: Use your palm to determine the size of a protein (fish, meat, etc.). Use your fist to measure carbs (fruit, potato, brown rice, etc.).
#3: Eating 5-6 healthy, portion controlled meals a day keep your energy level up, engages your metabolism and trims your waistline!
Mid-Afternoon Snack: Any fruit of your choice (carb) and a piece of string cheese (protein)
Exercise: 15 minutes cardio (your choice of type) 2 min. warm up, 11 min. continuous cardio & 2 min. cool down. Do more if you’re ready. Enjoy!

Weigh and Win includes daily coaching by text or email, based on preferences stated by the participant. If someone says they need to work out at home, they’ll get a message suggesting triceps dips using a coffee table, Hamilton said. If the person reports having no time to exercise, they’ll be given a suggestion to take the stairs, ride a bike for errands, or park farther away from work so they are forced to walk more as part of their daily lives. If lunch is a problem, they can get a heartening text just before noon.

“We have certified personal trainers on staff, available by phone or email,” Hamilton said. The staff can help when participants hit a plateau, or if they don’t like the food choices in suggested menus.

On Sundays, the email includes a grocery list for a week of healthy meals and snacks, along with easy recipes. For example, one quick breakfast recipe calls for splitting an English muffin, topping each side with a slice of tomato and a piece of low-fat cheese, then baking for 3-5 minutes.

The effort started 18 months ago with just four small kiosks where participants weigh in. There are now 40 kiosks in locations ranging from recreation centers to clinics to American Furniture Warehouse stores. The kiosks can be found along the Front Range from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and in Alamosa, Grand Junction and Routt County.

Kaiser Permanente is looking for partners to help fund more kiosks elsewhere in the state, at a cost of $7,000 each, Hamilton said. But with weigh-ins required only four times a year, participants can travel to check in.

Coloradans do not have to be covered by Kaiser Permanente to sign up for the free program – anyone can sign up. Payments are offered only to people who have a body mass index of 25 or higher, indicating they are overweight, Hamilton said. A 5 percent weight loss in a quarter pays $15, and a 10 percent loss pays $30. The payments rise to $150 a quarter for a 30 percent weight loss. After being paid for a full year of maintaining the lost weight, the baseline weight is re-set at the new level.

So far, Coloradans have lost 53,000 pounds. That may not seem like much for nearly 23,000 participants – an average of 2.3 pounds per person. However, Hamilton said many of those only recently signed up. “The average weight loss is 17 pounds if you stay for a year and weigh in,” she said. Only 1,165 people have been in the program for a full year so far.

Hamilton has noticed that people often take a couple of tries at it before they get serious. “It’s common to have them say, ‘Can you restart my emails? I’m ready now.’”

“We still have 22,000 people receiving our emails, and that’s really powerful,” she said.

Weigh and Win is based on a workplace wellness program from a company called Incentahealth, and that program is now being evaluated by the National Institutes of Health.

Details and kiosk locations can be found at www.WeighAndWin.com.

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