Chasity Ann posted her story on the SparkPeople Web site, and she could easily be a poster child for the online health and fitness company except for the fact that there are lot of other stories like hers. In a nutshell, Chasity Ann was one of those kids who was always overweight, and eventually grew to 250 pounds as an adult. She tried to make peace with her obesity, but when she heard about SparkPeople, she decided to take a look. Using the online tools provided by SparkPeople, she tracked her diet, and her physical activity (which didn't involve going to the gym). She kept at it, encouraged by achieving incremental goals, by the online community she found there and the other motivational aspects of the site. The bottom line is she's now down to 148 pounds and hoping to lose a few more.
Started in 2000, Cincinnati-based SparkPeople now claims 3.1 million unique visitors to its site, and says it is one the most-visited health and medical sites, behind only WebMD, AOL Body and Weight Watchers. SparkPeople is essentially a MySpace for healthy living, connecting people from all over the world so that they can motivate each other to live healthier lives. One key way it does that is through one of 15,000 SparkTeams, member-led groups of people that share a common bond or interest (in addition to losing weight or living a healthier lifestyle). The SparkPeople site includes different health-related categories, including pregnancy, fitness, healthy social networking for adults, teen health and recipes.
Founder Chris Downie started the company after selling his first start-up, Up4Sale, to eBay in 1999. Setting personal fitness goals and tracking them made a difference in his life and he set up SparkPeople to share that with the rest of the world. The site is free and is supported by advertisers, including Crest, Pampers, Fisher-Price, Nestle and Dole. "People tell us every day that the site has changed their life," Downie says. "The mission from day one has been to spark millions of people to reach their goals. It's a good example of for-profit social entrepreneurship."