Visitors to are prompted to answer a few questions. Visitors to are prompted to answer a few questions.

Chris Downie thinks he has the solution to America’s obesity crisis: a little healthy competition.

As the founder of SparkPeople — an online wellness community — Downie has spent the past decade figuring out what motivates better behavior. The website has attracted millions of visitors with exercise demos, low-cal recipes, stress reduction tips and the support of the network of users. The goal is to get these folks to “spread the spark” to their friends.

But some people aren’t receptive, Downie says, because they’re either overwhelmed by all of the content or they’re not officially on a diet.

So SparkAmerica ( was launched this fall. The pared-down spinoff asks users to go through a 60-second daily check-in — you input your exercise, a few nutritional details, your mood, etc. It all translates into SparkPoints that can be applied to the running tally for your city, your company, your sports team or almost any other group.

Many companies hold exercise contests. “But no one has done all of the offices at once,” says Downie, who predicts that this nationwide approach can be a game changer.

By battling alongside co-workers, individuals aren’t just improving their personal standing on the array of leaderboards on the site. They’re helping their office, and that helps their city, and that has the potential to make healthy behavior a point of civic pride, Downie says.

There are no actual prizes involved, which means D.C. — currently ranked 26th out of 155 cities — isn’t missing out. But that could change as SparkAmerica establishes partnerships.

“Imagine a national high school competition, sponsored with scholarship money,” Downie says.

To raise the project’s visibility, SparkPeople has turned to its members, who are now prompted to fill out the 60-second check-in when they log in to the main site, too.

Rebecca Rose, 29, says the change has given her even more of a reason to connect with SparkPeople, which she credits for helping her lose (and keep off) 60 pounds. The Arlington resident appreciates the numeric approach — “numbers don’t lie,” she says.

After realizing that she was in 11th place in the D.C. rankings, Rose set a new goal: “I’m going to break into the top 10 and be No. 1.”

Own Devices

SparkPeople has just introduced a waterproof activity tracker ($60, The device counts steps, calories and time spent exercising — and syncs wirelessly to a computer, so users can easily plug their info into the daily check-in.