More companies paying workers to lose weight

Offers include cash back, discounts on health care


ORLANDO, Fla. – The latest numbers show that more companies are giving financial rewards to workers who improve their health. That includes everything from losing weight to lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure.

"I just want to go home and relax and not do anything, sit on the couch," said Annikki Merritt, a guidance counselor with the Orange County School District in Orlando. She admits that she fell into an unhealthy cycle for years.

"That's always everyone's excuse is that they're so busy, or they have to get fast food because it's something that's quick and easy," said Merritt

But today, it's a different story. Merritt is now a gym rat -- in part, because her company pays her to stay fit.

"That was a big factor in keeping me accountable in the program," said Merritt. "Knowing that if I don't work out and don't follow the plan, I'm not gonna get that money back at the end."

We're talking a lot of money. Let's do the math:

Merritt pays $260 a month for her company's weight loss plan. She gets a trainer, dietician, and regular health exams at the Orlando Health Wellness Center.

But because she's shedding pounds and body fat, she's reimbursed $195 a month. That means she's only paying $65 to have a team of fitness pros at her disposal.

"Money is a big factor for a lot of people, so if they knew that they could get the money back, and improve their health, it helps people go out there and actually do it," said Merritt.

More companies are following that trend. According to a new report from Fidelity Investments, nearly 90 percent of businesses say they offer financial rewards to workers who get healthier. That's up from 57 percent back in 2009.

"They can't afford not to, it's in the best interest of their business, it's in the best interest of their employees," explained Lee O'Donnell. She runs the Wellness Program at Orlando Health, one of the biggest employers in Central Florida.

If you work for Orlando Health and hit certain fitness goals, you can save up to $200 a year in health insurance premiums, along with discounted gym and Weight Watchers memberships.

O'Donnell says it's a win-win for everyone. Workers are healthier, which allows companies to save on medical costs.

"They're interested in it, they're excited about it," said O'Donnell. "Then it starts to become the personal reward you're feeling outweighs the money you're being rewarded with, and it becomes part of who you are."

So, how can you get your company to offer something like this?

O'Donnell says you should start small. Get a group together and talk to your boss. See if they can reward you with things like movie tickets, free lunches, or extra days off.

If that works, you can eventually try and get them to pay you to stay in shape.