Employer organizes weight-loss contest for workers

Stacey Barich understood that she had to find some special way to lose her weigh after her mother contracted a serious infection in the hospital where she had surgery.

"I couldn't even do a sit-up when I got here, but this was a no-brainer for me," Barich said.

The no-brainer was a 12-week weight-loss contest offered by her employer, Agora Inc., a newsletter publishing company based in Baltimore. The reward: A $1,000 (EUR723) prize for the top "losers" in male, female and team categories.

Fitness programs and weight-loss competitions such as Agora's, which was inspired by the NBC show "The Biggest Loser," are catching on in offices, where workers are concerned about their waistlines and employers about health care costs. The goals are to improve employee health, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism and lower costs.

"The concept is becoming more popular as workplaces realized the cost of an obese work force," said Marci Campbell, an expert on work programs and an associate professor in the nutrition department at the University of Northern Carolina.

Barich, a corporate communications manager, has lost 15 pounds (7 kilograms) - she would rather not say how much she weighs - by working hard in the small, well-kept gym in Agora's basement.

"It's funny because people that know me are like, 'You work out?' But I enjoy coming here," Barich said.

By the time the contest ended Friday, 84 employees had shed nearly 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms), with two losing over 40 pounds (18 kilograms).

The company spent $90,000 (EUR65,000) for the 12-week program, which was extended for another 12 weeks. Employees have the option of working with personal trainers during classes at the company's gym or having unlimited access to a local gym. The Agora gym has free weights, cardio machines and weightlifting equipment in an exposed-brick decor.

Employee Paul Amos said he is working out to lose weight and prevent the heart disease that runs in his family.

"I'm now getting back into clothes that I couldn't fit in for a long time," said Amos, who lost 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms).

Of the company's more than 400 employees, 115 signed up for the exercise program and 84 also enrolled in the contest.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova