When Corporate Wellness Programs Discriminate

Some employers may be creating wellness plans that discriminate against those with obesity in order to improve their bottom line, according to a study presented by ObesityWeek. Dr. Adam Tsai, MD of The Obesity Society said that, while wellness programs commonly set weight goals for employees, they are often paired with employer health plans that deny coverage for evidence-based obesity treatment. Dr. Tsai said, “Employers should avoid BMI targets as the basis for any financial penalty or incentive, and instead reward employees for engaging in specific behaviors. Corporations need to encourage employees to maintain healthy eating habits, increase exercise and participate in weight management programs.” The study was conducted by Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, of ConscienHealth, and Joe Nadglowski of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

Fifty-nine percent of corporate health plans don’t cover obesity treatment, even when these employers commonly set weight, diet, and exercise goals for employees. Kyle said, “A growing number of employers figured out that carefully crafted weight or body mass index (BMI) requirements can also be an effective way of making it harder for people with obesity to enjoy the full benefits of healthcare coverage, saving short-term costs while hurting employees. Our study shows how some programs can amount to a subterfuge for discrimination. All too often, a wellness plan that sets weight goals for employees is paired with a health plan that denies coverage for evidence-based obesity treatments. By doing this, an employer risks alienating more than a third of its employees.”

Robert Kushner, MD, director Northwestern’s Comprehensive Center on Obesity said, “Tackling obesity in the workplace requires a holistic approach. Doing it right includes offering well-designed workplaces that encourage activity, cafeterias that focus on healthy eating, leaders who model healthy behavior, and health plans covering a wide range of treatments.” Nadglowski said, “Without a genuine commitment to employee health, a wellness program is useless as evidenced in recent news reports about Penn State. Their faculty and staff forced the university to cancel plans for a wellness program that would have penalized employees who would not submit to being weighed for it.” For more information, visit:www.Obesity.org.,

Last Updated 09/16/2020

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