Community weight loss challenges

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

Community weight loss challenges are temporary programs that aim to energize participating community members to lose weight. Weight loss challenges can be designed as healthy lifestyle education programs, sports competitions between teams, charity donation drives, or faith-based initiatives. Weight loss challenges are typically multi-component interventions that include education, weight status and food intake tracking, regular check-ins, and group support. At the end of the challenge, there are often prizes awarded to the individuals or teams who lost the most weight.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved nutrition

  • Improved weight status

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Community weight loss challenges are a suggested strategy to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and increase weight loss1. Available evidence suggests that community weight loss challenges can result in modest weight loss among participants2, and participating in more annual challenges is associated with greater accumulated weight loss than participating in fewer annual challenges3. In one study, men appeared to lose more weight than women, and participants who signed up as individuals lost more weight than those who signed up as part of a group, possibly due to their previously established support networks3. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Community weight loss challenges that offer group support and weekly check-ins, use food log diaries or online tracking and performance feedback, and last at least 3-4 months can result in behavior change and weight loss for communities as a whole1, 4; however, to affect weight gain rates at the community level, challenges must reach more members of participating communities2. Case studies suggest that education regarding nutrition, portion control, physical activity, weight maintenance, and long-term wellness are important components of these challenges4, 5. To improve the effectiveness of large scale community weight loss programs, experts recommend maintaining contact with participants, offering incentives to return to final weigh-ins and to maintain weight loss long-term, and helping participants to develop lifestyle skills and social support in the context of the local environment3.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Communities can choose to implement weight loss challenges on their own or can join statewide efforts. The Challenge in Rio Grande Valley, Texas includes partnerships with gyms, fitness experts, nutritionists, and local organizations for its annual weight loss competition6. The non-profit organization, It’s Time Texas, offers three-month healthy living challenges statewide, as well as a suite of tools for individuals, communities, employers, and schools7.

Community weight loss challenges can also be part of multi-component health initiatives offered through faith-based organizations. For example, The Church Challenge in Flint, Michigan offers interventions to support health at the community, church, and individual level, and their work began by engaging local churches in a competition to promote healthy weight loss8, 9.


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1 AHRQ HCIE-Kumar - Kumar R, LaFayette J. Shape Up RI: Statewide, team-based fitness program uses online social networking and competition to promote exercise and weight loss in adults. Rockville: AHRQ Health Care Innovations Exchange.

2 VanWormer 2018 - VanWormer JJ, Pereira RF, Sillah A, et al. Adult weight management across the community: Population‐level impact of the LOSE IT to WIN IT challenge. Obesity Science and Practice. 2018;4(2):119-128.

3 Funk 2019 - Funk MD, Lee M, Vidoni ML, et al. Weight loss and weight gain among participants in a community-based weight loss challenge. BioMed Central (BMC) Obesity. 2019;6:1-9.

4 Jensen 2013 - Jensen KD. Organizing a community 'biggest loser' weight loss challenge. Journal of Extension. 2013;51(2):2009-13.

5 Carter-Edwards 2009 - Carter-Edwards L, Bastian LA, Schultz M, Amamoo MA, Østbye T. An internet-based weight loss intervention initiated by a newspaper. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2009;6(3):A101.

6 Brownsville-The Challenge - City of Brownsville, TX. The Challenge-RGV 2020.

7 ITT-Communities - It’s Time Texas (ITT). Communities.

8 Johnson-Lawrence 2019 - Johnson-Lawrence V. The Church Challenge: A community-based multilevel cluster randomized controlled trial to improve blood pressure and wellness in African American churches in Flint, Michigan. Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications. 2019;14.

9 FCHES - Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions (FCHES). Church Challenge.