LMP Focus Areas

Being a Loser Helps KP Employees Thrive

Weight-loss contest improves workers health and boosts morale

John Brewer is proud to be a loser.

An optical dispensing cashier in Orange County, Brewer has shed more than 100 pounds in slightly less than a year, thanks to Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Workforce campaign.

And the pounds keep coming off.

"I feel great," says Brewer. "I have a lot more energy. It’s been the greatest thing for me."

Brewer is among more than 100 Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians who have participated in a Biggest Loser contest at the Harbor MacArthur Medical Office Building in Santa Ana.

Supporting employees mind, body and soul

Based on the NBC reality show of the same name—and modeled after similar contests at other Orange County KP facilities—the contest, which began in May 2010, was initiated by Thrive champions Michelle Boontanom, an assistant department administrator, and Ming "Andy" Chen, DO. Their goal is to support Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Workforce initiative, which encourages employees and physicians to be their best in body, mind and spirit no matter what their size, shape, fitness level or mindset. Programs and services that promote employee health, like the Healthy Workforce initiative, are part of the 2010 National Agreement.

"We decided it would be a great program to implement because it would make getting fit and losing weight fun for everyone, promote teamwork and boost morale," Boontanom says.

Now in its second season, the contest encourages employees and physicians to work together in teams that compete to lose the highest percentage of weight.

And the biggest loser is. . .

So far this year, the building had lost a combined total of nearly 700 pounds, according to Boontanom, who calculates individual and team weight loss results.

"The campaign has changed a lot of behaviors," she says. "People walk at lunchtime and bring in fruit instead of doughnuts."

After dropping more than 110 pounds since May 2010, Brewer recently was named the building’s individual Biggest Loser.

He’s proud of the moniker. "Patients see that I have lost weight and it actually helps them, too," he says.

Brewer heard about the contest after learning he had type 2 diabetes. "I had tried everything to lose weight," he recalls. "I was at my wit’s end." Then the contest came along and because he was a member of a team, Brewer felt he had to succeed—"otherwise I would be letting my teammates, my co-workers, down."

Eating healthy and exercising

Brewer went from getting no exercise to walking around the building each day at lunch and walking at home for an hour after work. He also stopped eating carbohydrates, junk food and fast food. It helps that his co-workers stopped bringing in unhealthy snacks.

"Used to be we had doughnuts and candy bars and cake all the time," Brewer says. "Now we have healthy snacks, so I'm not as easily tempted to go off my diet."

And if someone in the building is caught eating an unhealthy snack, fellow co-workers immediately call them on it.

"Even the docs get yelled at," Dr. Chen says.

Thrive messages

In addition to the weekly weigh-in, participants receive regular emails from Dr. Chen that include "thrive messages" as well as healthy tips, recipes and a motivational paragraph or piece of advice related to the health tip.

"Each week, the teams are excited and anxious to see which team had the highest weight loss percentage," Boontanom says. "All of the teams are truly motivated to get healthy and be the biggest loser."

The contest’s success has inspired additional buildingwide Healthy Workforce activities, according to Jennifer Viquez, director of ambulatory care, including:

  • Creation of a “Thrive Path” around the building;
  • Wii Fit Fridays for video game exercise and friendly competitions;
  • Free “Lunch and Learn” sessions on weight management, increasing physical activity and reducing stress, offered in partnership with Health Education; and
  • Weekly financial and spiritual wellness sessions.

"With these programs, physicians and employees are helping and cheering each other on, saying things like 'Don’t eat that!' or 'Good job! Glad you worked out last night,' " Viquez says.

Creating a healthy workforce

Participation in other Healthy Workforce activities by staff members has increased, according to Boontanom. Last June, for example, nearly 30 employees and physicians participated in a 5K run/walk at the Irvine Medical Center.

"People who’d never dreamed of doing a 5K suddenly found themselves hitting the road," Boontanom says.

Biggest Loser team members also participated in the Pound for Pound challenge sponsored by the actual television show. They donated 271 pounds of groceries to the local food bank, according to Boontanom.

"So as we’ve lost, our community has gained."

I have a lot more energy. It’s been the greatest thing for me.

John Brewer
Optical dispensing cashier, Orange County
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