Missouri college challenges employees to lose weight

Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Cindy and Dennis Hunt move through the P90X workout Nov. 29 in the Old Stephens Auditorium on the Stephens College campus in Columbia, Mo.
Parker Eshelman
Columbia Daily Tribune

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Sure, they're more than halfway to their goal of collectively shedding 250 pounds, but the roughly 100 people participating in Stephens College's weight-loss challenge have gained so much more.

"It's stopped being about weight," Stephens president Dianne Lynch said. "It's about what this has done for our community. People are so excited about this. They're engaging with one another in ways they never have before."

In September, Stephens College launched the $1 million Losers Club, a challenge put forth by an anonymous donor from Oregon who agreed to give $1 million if faculty and staff lose a collective 250 pounds by Jan. 1.

As of Nov. 1, participants who routinely weigh in had dropped a collective 158 pounds, Lynch said. That's not including the faculty and staff who are participating but not weighing until the end of the challenge.

The health-conscious donor also agreed to donate $100,000 if Lynch personally loses 25 pounds, although her challenge does not have a deadline. So far, Lynch has lost 15 pounds.

To encourage faculty and staff to get in shape, Lynch is allowing them to use a paid work hour every day to exercise on the private college campus.

Employees have formed walking groups, and others are participating in karate classes, yoga sessions and dance programs.

Dennis and Cindy Hunt, both custodians at Stephens, opt for the P90X workout led by human resources director Richard Enyard.

"It's a win-win for me," Dennis Hunt said recently before a workout. "I'm getting healthy, and I get to help the college."

Dennis stopped smoking a year ago and gained 30 pounds. Since the challenge, he has dropped 10.

"It helps you feel younger and look younger," he said. "That's how I feel. I do more now at 49 than I did at 18."

Cindy also has benefited from the challenge, trimming not only 4 pounds but also her food budget.

"I don't eat quite as much as I used to," she said. "I can't even finish a plate."

But the best part, the Hunts agreed, is that they're getting a chance to meet and interact with people at Stephens they otherwise wouldn't have had a chance to.

"There's a shift in perception about this," Lynch said. "It isn't about the money, really; it's about a great supportive network."

The health and wellness initiative, she said, will continue past Jan. 1, regardless of whether the campus snags the million bucks.

The challenge that offered money for pounds raised some eyebrows when Lynch announced it in August. Some online critics called the weight-loss effort offensive and potentially dangerous. Lynch heard some of the concerns but considers them small-minded.

"We're making a difference in people's health, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters," she said.

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