Is the Solution to the Obesity Epidemic Paying Employees to Lose Weight?

By Jude Carter

Driving into work today I heard 2 snippets on the radio:

The Wall Street Journal reported that more companies are paying employees to lose weight.

Hot on the heels of that, I hear that kids with good grades can get all kinds of great stuff free—pizza, donuts, ice cream and cookies.

Call me nuts, but isn’t this a big fat disconnect?

We’re telling our kids that if they work hard and get high marks, their reward will be loads of sugary, fat-laden snacks. Besides sending the message that celebration is all about food, this contributes to the obesity epidemic. Fast forward to when these overweight kids become fat adults and head off to work, where they now get paid to lose weight.

Lately there’s been a lot of press about company-sponsored “dieting for dollars” programs, the latest trend in workplace wellness. The rewards vary widely from cash to trips, to gym memberships and more. Then of course there are the hidden costs of what it takes to promote these programs inside the company― not to mention the need to appoint “food cops” to keep an eye on what kind of goodies are being served at corporate events. (IBM actually has a “Wellbeing Director” in charge of such things.)

But what’s really going on here? I get that we’re desperate to reduce burgeoning healthcare costs, but isn’t health and wellness a matter of taking personal responsibility? By paying people to eat right and exercise, are we really helping them make long-term changes? And who’s to say how they will spend that prize money. $150 buys a lot of ice cream.

Sharon Toelle
June 3, 2010

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