Tag Archives: notrunning

Is Romulus Athletic Center on the forefront of public health policy

My gym, the Romulus Athletic Center is doing a promotion. When you join up for the year, one of your family members weighs in. When you sign up next year, they weigh in again, and the number of pounds they lost is the percent discount you get on that years registration fee.

lbs. lost = % off next year

If we ignore crazy edge conditions (such as people oscillating wildly in weight every other year to save the most money over time), and assume that weight lost is always good, then this is pretty much perfect. This gym is a public facility, run by the City of Romulus for the benefit of the community. So giving out discounted memberships isn’t going to drive it out of business, but it may provide more motivation to keep people active, help them embrace an active lifestyle. And that is good for the people of Romulus.

First of all, it’s pretty much utterly unscammable. Even if someone starts pulling wrestling-style weigh-up and weigh-down tricks to try to get a bigger discount, they’re not going to be able to pull off much more than what, 10lbs? (Unless they’re eating concrete). At about $500 a year for a membership, that’s $50. Without knowing much about the business of gyms, or the habits of weight scammers, I’m still confident that a 10% discount on a handful of dedicated people won’t break the bank. Much of your gym members are people who aren’t looking to lose much weight, aren’t going to lose much weight, and aren’t willing to intentionally dehydrate themselves for a week to save $50 every other year.

For the people this is intended for, that do lose weight, at $5 per pound lost, this sounds like utter public policy genius to me. Worst case, you end up giving out free gym memberships to a bunch of people dropping 100+lbs a year. What public health official wouldn’t agree to that? For the price of a couple angioplasties, this plan could seriously impact the waistline of a whole community.

It doesn’t really create motivation from nothing; people have to want to lose weight to begin with, at least enough to be willing to try. It’s a closed circle, no one is going to join a gym, and exercise a bunch to get a cheap membership if they don’t have the will to exercise. But the brilliant thing is it’s self regulating; it’s a great expression of an control engineering principle; the Negative Feedback Loop!

The further you are from your ideal weight, the more weight you want to lose, the more weight you can lose, and the cheaper your gym membership will be while you are losing that weight.  Then as you approach your ideal weight (even if you overshoot it!) you get a small, oscillating discount as your weight fluctuates around that value.  Say 0-5% every year if you just stay the same weight and let normal daily fluctuations determine what you weigh in at. If you get fed up with paying full price for the gym, and you go on a year long pizza and beer bender, well you can get a cheap gym member ship again… but not until you lose some of the weight. You have to be making progress to get rewarded, and it does not punish setbacks!

“Sure,” you saavy control systems engineers ask (I know you don’t, but bear with me) “but how come we don’t just give people who weigh more a bigger discount!” Because that rewards being fat, not getting thinner.

“Fine then, bigger discounts for lighter people!” No again! This punishes being fat, which, let’s face it, clothing shopping does well enough.

“Okay, how about instead we set up a goal weight based on some SCIENCE, with a big discount for people who are far from their goal weights. Just like a control system like an HVAC or cruise control!” This has the SAME problem as just big discounts for big people; it rewards being heavy with lower prices. Plus it’s COMPLICATED and nobody likes to do math.  lbs = % is simple!

So intentionally or not, I think the RAC has stumbled on the perfect formula.

Most runners know how helpful it is to have a goal; it certainly has been for me. Whether it’s a new distance, a new speed, a BQ, a PR in a race, or a nice consistent weekly mileage, it’s great to have something tangible that you can reach for, achieve, and feel motivated by. This RAC weightloss promotion, especially if they keep it up year over year, is just one more way to set a goal, and one more way to reward that goal with something small but that generates good feelings and a an incentive to keep going. Weightloss is a reason to join a gym, and a way to use the gym cheaper. It looks like a win/win for the customer, and because the ‘vendor’ in this case also has fitness as a goal, it’s a win/win for the vendor as well. What an elegant solution!

Now obviously, a discount on a gym membership isn’t the only factor in weight loss. Plenty of Americans have free or nearly free access to work gyms, public gyms, low cost memberships to the YMCA. But I think that fitness centers (particularly not-for-profit ones) around the country could benefit from this system, or some variation.