From ‘Engineer loses more than 5kg, wins Suzuki Swift car’, 26 Oct 2014, article by Samantha Boh, Sunday Times
Accountant Dawn Hoe had always been on the big side. But when she ballooned by almost 10kg after giving birth, the 37-year-old mother of two tried all sorts of ways to lose weight, including going to a slimming centre. But these did not work….Tired of her lethargy and having to field questions from relatives about her size, she joined the Health Promotion Board’s Lose to Win campaign in March, which got her going with exercise classes, before signing up for the One Million KG Challenge.
…Organised by the HPB, the challenge is the country’s first national incentive-based weight management programme. It launched its second season yesterday, but not before a grand draw for 10 finalists, including Ms Hoe, randomly chosen from participants who have lost at least 3kg over six months since March.
The winner of the top prize, a Suzuki Swift car, said she signed up for the challenge thinking that it was a compulsory part of another weight loss programme she was already enrolled in. But the mistake helped 44-year-old engineer Ting Yit Lai to lose more than 5kg along the way.
A car as top prize is a bewildering choice for a weight-loss campaign, one that I would expect to promote walking, jogging or cycling as part of a healthy lifestyle. Losing weight, like kindness to strangers, should be its own reward, and if you’re doing it for a new car or a trip to Australia, I would be surprised if you could maintain a healthy BMI after a week of celebrating and wine-and-dine, not to mention in the long run. How about a free lifetime gym membership? Or a year’s supply of fat-free yogurt? At least an electric kick-scooter which would require some lower limb power perhaps?
In the reality-TV series Biggest Loser Asia season 2, local boy Raj lost a staggering 67kg to clinch the top prize of USD $100,000. He may have lost his fat but gained some foes during the show because of his ‘manipulative game play’. But if acting like a bastard on public television isn’t bad enough, Raj soon ‘gained back 9kg’ in a matter of days post-season while celebrating his victory, according to his ambassadorial testimonial for Fitness First. I wonder how the former plus-sized heavyweight is doing now. Earlier this year, some NTU students launched the similarly named ‘FIT TO WIN’, where contestants stood to win cold hard cash from a pot if they lose 5% of their body weight. The top prize is a 1 year gym membership, though I believe most people, myself included, would refrain from trying too hard just to win consolation money. Which I would splurge on a buffet as reward for subjecting myself to 8 weeks of zumba.
Very rarely, such weight loss challenges may lead to death if you overdo it, and the weight reduction may not even be as drastic as 5kg. In 2011, a 54 year old man with a history of coronary bypass collapsed after a 2km brisk walk. It was his second Lose to Win attempt and he lost just 2kg, weighing around 70kg when he died. If you find yourself failing to attain any results, you may even be tempted to cheat your way to the Suzuki, like the ‘doping’ scandal that happened on the US version of the Biggest Loser 2013. Interestingly, Duke-NUS have even embarked on a study to see if people are motivated by money to lose weight, except unlike a contest dangling prize money as a carrot, the researchers make you PAY a sum first as a deposit (refundable if you meet targets) to keep you committed. It’s like signing up for gym membership, without the motivation of eye-candy.
HPB has good intentions, no doubt, but using material incentives, which have nothing to do with healthy living, to spur contestants on is questionable, especially for the long haul. The whole contest is also fixated on losing kgs, not ‘getting healthier’ or ‘lowering your risk of myocaridal infarction’, nor are they telling people that it’s OK if you’re overweight but continue to exercise and eat well, even if it means not losing (or gaining) any kilos at all. People should keep fit for themselves and because they enjoy it for its own sake, not for fame, the attention, defeating the ‘competition’, ‘visible results’ or a brand new Suzuki car which they’ll take on joy rides and give up public transportation forever.