Another Reason to Avoid Obesity: The Job Market

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It is very hard to convince children of anything connected with the future. Reason doesn’t work, because the thoughts of a child or teenager just don’t project into the future. Predicting that a child’s life will be ruined by a facial tattoo, a drug habit, or 300 extra pounds is pretty much an exercise in futility.

An adult can issue dire warnings, backed up with statistics, about how much harder it is for an obese person to land a job. A kid will think, “Okay, I’ll get a job as a circus fat man. No problem.” A teenager with think, “My mad skilz as a virtual reality game developer will bring me wealth and fame, no matter how much I weigh.” Or possibly, “I’ll just marry somebody rich who will love my sense of humor and feel honored to pay my way through life.”

Obesity and Job Hunting

On the employment front, the news is getting worse and worse. Not only is it difficult to convince companies to make a hire in the first place, but retaining a job is something no one can take for granted. A couple of years ago, corporate America really started to encourage healthy living to lower insurance costs. Over 80 percent of American companies were already offering incentives, like discount gym memberships and free health screenings, to employees in an effort to persuade them to improve their physical well-being.

Some companies penalized smokers with slightly higher insurance premiums, and this was seen as unfair by many. Others saw the move as ultimately fair because smokers raised the overall rates for everyone in the health insurance pool. In general, positive rewards did not generate much enthusiasm or participation, and were not working out satisfactorily. Corporate America became impatient and decided to try penalties instead. Obesity became the next obvious target for harm reduction, because health care costs for the co-morbidities associated with obesity are so high.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis interviewed several experts for CNN. The Downey Obesity Report, which provides updates on science and public policy as related to obesity, was disappointed with positive incentive programs. Publisher Morgan Downey told the reporter:

These programs, when it comes to obesity and weight management, are simply not very effective. All the studies have shown a very marginal weight loss over 12 months. The best scientists and clinicians in the world have trouble getting these conditions under control. Why do we think HR can do it?

Although the majority of American adults are overweight or obese, Downey found no clinically proven treatment protocols for obesity, and quoted studies showing that most people who do lose weight will regain it within five years. Lewis also spoke with Cornell University public policy professor John Cawley and reported:

A recent study of a workplace program that offered financial incentives for losing weight to 2,635 workers found only modest weight loss and a high dropout rate.

It is well known that, nationwide, more than half of every year’s total health care bill comes from conditions that could be avoided by better diet, exercise, and stress management practices. So companies started cracking down on unhealthy living. Lewis related how in 2013, the CVS Caremark corporation instituted a $600 penalty for workers who failed to report “biometric data such as weight, body fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol” in annual screenings.

AON Hewitt, a human resources consultancy firm, surveyed nearly 800 companies and found that more than half of them planned to start charging penalties similar to those used by Caremark. Because such companies typically pay over $10,000 per year for each employee’s insurance, they felt well within their rights to levy such penalties.

(to be continued….)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Coming to a workplace near you: Fines for being fat?,”, 04/15/13
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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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