'Healthball' Employs Fantasy Sports Concept to Control Weight, Fight Diabetes

09/14/2010 10:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For starters, consider these stats:

Roughly 145 million Americans qualify as obese or overweight, according to the American Heart Association.

Almost 24 million have diabetes -- about 90 percent of them type 2, according to the American Diabetes Association.

And an estimated 15 million play fantasy football, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

There is no documented connection between the first two groups and the third one, but Jeff Hagen and Jim Schutz hope there soon will be. They want overweight Americans to use their new program to manage or prevent type 2 diabetes and improve overall health.

Hagen and Schutz (who uses the pen name Jim Ballard) are the creators of Fantasy Healthball, which applies the fantasy football concept to making healthy choices regarding diet and exercise, and creates the motivational impetus needed to follow through on those choices.

They've developed an informative Internet site,, and have just published a surprisingly readable book, Fantasy Healthball - Football Edition -- The Fantasy Sports Diet and Exercise Program Where You Take On the Pros ($18.95, Good Fight Publishing). They, of course, have timed their "kickoff" to coincide with the start of the 2010 National Football League regular season -- and the fantasy drafts that are taking place nightly this time of year.

Here's a sampling of the wisdom offered online and in the book:

"Starving yourself to lose weight is like treating your body like the enemy. It's an over-reaction to the desire to lose weight and makes about as much sense as not exercising for a year and then running a marathon to make up for it. You want moderation and healthy eating choices over the long run, not intermittent over-reactions.

"Exercise and nutrition are like a good running game and a good passing game. They work hand in hand, and each is made more effective by the other...

"People who are dieting sometimes feel guilt or shame if they are not as successful as they'd like. In professional sports, seldom do you hear of guilt or shame. You hear a lot about pride and respect... With self-respect and pride, you can overcome all challenges and become a champion."

At its core, Fantasy Healthball makes a game out of maintaining good eating habits and committing to regular exercise. The Daily Challenge Team Roster Scorecard, reprinted in the book and available online, identifies 22 diet and exercise challenges (behaviors) that will lead to better health through weight control and physical fitness.

And that's what separates Fantasy Healthball from other weight control and healthy living programs. As Jeff and Jim write in their book:

"This personal approach is drastically different from other diet and exercise plans (because) it isn't about conforming to some new fad like low-carb or high-protein or low-sugar...

"Yes, Fantasy Healthball is about a healthy diet. And yes, it is about nutrition. And it is about exercise. But mostly it is about the choices you make."

Just as each member of a Fantasy Football League selects the players whose statistical performances in games in a given week earn them points, Fantasy Healthball players choose seven behaviors from the Daily Challenge Team Roster that they will attempt to meet that week. They earn points each day they successfully meet a chosen challenge. They can earn bonus points, too.

The basic concept of Fantasy Healthball is to try to outscore your Fantasy Football team (or other teams in your fantasy league) each week. But that assumes you have a Fantasy Football team, or that you have enough interest in football in general, or fantasy football in particular, to join a league or to form your own ad hoc team.

Practically speaking, though, anyone can "play" Fantasy Healthball. As Jim and Jeff explain in Chapter 5, you can compete with yourself by setting targets that you try to beat each week (solitaire). Or you can compete with other family members who join the healthful competition.

Appendix B in the book provides a detailed definition and explanation for each challenge included in the Daily Challenge Team Roster Scorecard, but they're not new or exotic. Some examples:

Eliminate soft drinks.

Eat at least 5-8 ounces of grains.

Limit caffeine to two servings or less.

Get a minimum seven hours of sleep.

Do not exceed adequate portion sizes.

Limit consumption of oils, trans fats and saturated fats.

Another nice feature of the Fantasy Healthball book is its Appendix C, titled "Gameday Recipes." Among them are: Good Ole Mom's Healthier Chili, No Penalty Pizza, Bear Down Bruschetta and, believe it or not, Healthy French Fries (which aren't actually fried). What sets them apart is the paragraph at the end of each. They are captioned: Health Thoughts.

Boyhood pals in Chicago, Hagen and Schutz tell the story of Fantasy Healthball in their book. In short, Hagen gained 125 pounds by the time he was in his early thirties. Schutz hit on the Fantasy Healthball idea after every other attempt to help Hagen lose weight had failed.

His battle is not over, Hagen writes, but he is now in control of his well-being, thanks to Fantasy Healthball. For anyone struggling with similar challenges, it's worth a try.