Think you can lose the weight? Want to bet on that?

Want to put some money on escaping obesity? I can get you odds of 10 to 3.

Think you can go from obese to a normal weight in a year, and keep the weight off?

Want to put some money on that? I can get you odds of 10 to 3.

It's called the Healthywage BMI Challenge, and it's the brainchild of David Roddenberry, who co-founded the site about a year ago. (The picture is from the site's home page.)

The deal is you put up $300. You go to a reputable health club affiliated with the program, like a YMCA, for a weigh-in. You weigh yourself each week (we'll trust you on that) and after a year you get your final weigh-in. If you've hit the mark you get $1,000.

It's just one of the incentive programs currently on the site, Roddenberry said, and he's anxious to do more. He's offering $100 on a free program that works much like BMI Challenge.

He's launching a business competition called The Matchup, in which corporate teams will compete to lose weight as with the TV show The Biggest Loser.

UPDATE: The show is incorporating the site's angle of betting into the new season which premieres August 2. Teams of 2 put up $10,000 and can conceivably win $100,000 from the other teams.

"We have about 30,000 members and 3003,000 health clubs signed up," Roddenberry said, since launching last year at the TechCrunch 50 event, and he's really just getting started.

Roddenberry and co-founder Jimmy Fleming (joined by chief medical officer Christina Jenkins) base their program on "a rich vein of academic research showing financial incentives can work for all sorts of chronic conditions."

There's also a rich vein of possible sponsors who have yet to be called on:

  • Insurance companies now have incentives for wellness thanks to health reform. UnitedHealth is already working with the YMCA, a Healthywage partner, on diabetes.
  • Corporations that self-insure could subsidize the contests or even enrich the pay-outs. The current odds are based on Healthywage's own estimates of success, but this is a bet sponsors want to lose.
  • Physician groups could launch wellness programs using a medical home model, in which they're paid regular fees for keeping people healthy.
  • Diet companies could work with the site to provide incentives for their clients.
  • Food companies could work with the site to provide incentives for their customers.

Roddenberry, whose degrees come from Harvard, the London School of Economics and Oxford, said there are also other health conditions where incentives like these could work. "We're broadly focused," he said, on "anything behavioral economics can lend a hand in."

There's even a list of dentists on the site. Maybe you could collect for avoiding cavities, or your kids could be paid for keeping their retainers in after orthodontia.

Healthywage has barely scratched the surface. "Our biggest problem is convincing the consumer this is real. Consumers are tired and frustrated with the diet scams. It doesn't feel legitimate."

But it is. There's a business model that can work, a site that is working, and an enormous number of opportunities ahead.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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