Team BCPS drops 3,500 pounds in Healthiest Loser competition


Middleborough Elementary School Principal Ligeri Kourtesis is accomplishing a goal that eludes many. This school year, she’s lost almost 70 pounds—and counting—through Healthiest Loser, a customized weight loss program created by Baltimore County Public Schools’ Office of Health Services. She says the impact on her everyday life has been remarkable.

“There’s more pep in my step now,” Ligeri says. “I feel healthier and stronger. It’s had a positive effect on everything I do.”

Laurie isn’t the only BCPS employee sporting a leaner physique in time for summer. Since September, team BCPS has shed more than 3,500 pounds thanks to the program, which uses regular weigh-ins in a friendly but competitive team environment to drive results.

Healthiest Loser originated two years ago at the request of employees who wanted a low-cost alternative to the system’s Weight Watchers program. Open to the idea, Employee Wellness Program Representatives Jenny Ward and Karen Heinrich set out to create an independent program that BCPS offices, departments and schools could adapt according to their unique needs and timelines.

Middleborough Elementary's "Healthiest Losers" before starting the program
Middleborough Elementary's "Healthiest Losers" after participating in the program

“We did a lot of research to learn what components of a weight loss program were most important for long-term success,” Jenny said. “Based on that, we decided to focus on a team-based format that encouraged healthy lifestyle changes, like exercise and healthier eating, as opposed to simply weight loss.”

What resulted is a highly customizable program with a simple structure: a group of people who want to lose weight commit to weekly weigh-ins for a predetermined period of time, with results posted under pseudonyms to keep individual results private. Participants receive healthy inspiration from a program leader and other participants throughout the process. At the end, a final weigh is used to determine the program “winner.”

From this basic outline, program leaders adapt their structure to their participants. Some programs last 6 weeks; others go on for 12. Some groups pay to participate in the program, with funds going into a pot distributed to the person who loses the most weight or the highest percentage of weight at the program’s end; some add a smaller weekly cash incentive as well. Some host healthy living guest speakers and presentations to inspire progress; others simply send emails with tips and recipes pulled from the internet.

The program’s adaptability is what makes it relevant, accessible and easily repeatable. At the request of participants, many program leaders have hosted multiple sessions, and like having the flexibility to tweak various elements of the program as they go along.

As for what makes participants successful in the program, Jenny says that depends on the individual. Many, like Ligeri, enjoy the camaraderie and support of losing weight as part of a team, and are buoyed by encouraging words from fellow team members or the program leader. Others, like Kelly and program participant and leader Jacke Correlli of Patapsco High School and Center for Arts, say the consistency of weekly weigh-ins keeps healthy living at the forefront of the mind.

“Just knowing you’re accountable to someone who’s going to weigh you every week is huge motivator,” Kelly said. “A little competitiveness comes out when I send weekly emails with the results and prize winners, but there’s a lot of camaraderie too—people respond to each other with ‘Way to go!’ and ‘Keep up good work!’ Ultimately, I think the program really pulls people together.”

No matter what each participant’s motivation is, Jenny and Karen say they’re just happy to see so many employees getting healthier.

“Weight loss is a complex issue, so to see the results we have over the past year has been so exciting,” Karen said. “We’re hopeful that more offices and schools will participate going forward.”

For information about hosting a Healthiest Loser program at your school, contact Wellness Representative Jenny Ward at x6397 or


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