By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor of Risk & Insurance®
When it comes to being too heavy, Americans shouldn't forget that they're not the only ones fighting the weight battle. The United Kingdom, with a total 2008 population of 61 million, is home to 31 million overweight or obese adults as well, according to official statistics.
A London-based company, which has just come out with trial results trumpeting some impressive figures in a cash-for-pounds-shed scheme, believes it's found an answer.
Weight Wins, a London company headed by Winton Rossiter, reports that a six-month trial in conjunction with Britain's National Health Service (NHS) produced an average weight loss of 14.3 pounds among citizens of East Kent
The incentive? Cold hard cash, provided, that is, that the subject keeps the weight off. NHS, the United Kingdom's behemoth, public healthcare entity, pays Weight Wins approximately $302 per subject plus administrative costs to manage each weight-loss candidate.
Participants report once a month to a nurse or other health specialist who weighs the candidate. The results are fed back to Weight Wins. A candidate who loses 30 pounds over six months would garner as much as $259. A participant who sheds 50 pounds over a 13-month period can earn as much as $689.
In an additional 12-month trial just completed by Weight Wins, the average program starter lost 18.2 pounds, and earned a little extra cash doing it.
NEXT TARGET: AMERICA
Now Rossiter is eyeing the much larger U.S. healthcare market, which, unlike the government-run NHS, is largely controlled by the private sector.
In the United States., with its population of more than 300 million, about 33 percent of men and 35 percent of women were considered obese in 2005-2006, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. market, however, is already crowded, and Rossiter said he's well aware that there are already a host of companies helping U.S. employers give incentives to their employees to help them lose weight.
But by offering a multiplicity of plans with different time frames and weight-loss goals, Rossiter said, he's offering an approach to an incentive-based system that offers more choices and flexibility.
"I am absolutely convinced that this is not a magic bullet for solving the weight problem, but I think it is actually the best thing," Rossiter said in an Oct. 13 phone interview with Risk and Insurance®.
There has been some criticism, though, in the United Kingdom that a cash-strapped government shouldn't be spending money on a program such as Rossiter's.
Rossiter rejected those arguments, insisting that his strategy offers long-terms savings to healthcare systems, be they public or private.
"Go back and look at where the taxpayer money is being spent in the NHS," Rossiter responds. In the area of obesity, Rossiter said, the annual cost to the national system is some $6.5 billion.
"An investment of the NHS of putting one person on the program has a payback directly to the NHS in lifetime medical bills of 10 to one," said Rossiter.
Brad Weinberg, who works with numerous U.S.-based corporations in creating networks for friends and co-workers to encourage one another to lose weight, said the incentive-based weight loss strategy is a rapidly growing field.
Rossiter, of course, knows this, which is why he's interesting in breaking into the U.S. market.
Opinions on what will create the best long-term results when it comes to weight loss inevitably vary. For his part, Weinberg, co-founder of Providence, R.I.-based Shape Up The Nation, thinks the social support inherent in his company's platform, not a cash-based incentive program, has the best chance of producing long-term benefits.
"Everybody is trying to create long-term behavior change, and the only way to really influence long-term behavior change is by creating something that people really want to do," said Weinberg, whose company works with such U.S.-based companies such as CVS Caremark and UPS.
In focusing on weight loss and weight loss alone, Rossiter said, he is taking a focused approach that could give insurers and employers the biggest bang for their buck.
"We are a laser that focuses on the single most expensive cause of a person's ill health, which is overweight," Rossiter said. "And if you can do that, it solves many problems."
October 20, 2009
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