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Overweight? Johnson & Johnson’s Dream Is Your Worst Nightmare

Every time I think wellness promoters can’t possibly match their previous shock-and-awe levels of egregious statements and proposals, they come through with another one.  This post is from the employee’s viewpoint. To see it from the employer’s viewpoint, view the posting on the Proposed Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax. That company wants corporate America to pay them to count the number of overweight employees a corporation has.

PS  Obviously we don’t have any money to oppose this with, so please share it on social media.

Suppose there were:  (1) a widely held but false perception that gays had lower productivity and higher healthcare costs than straights; (2) false literature that companies with gay conversion programs outperformed the stock market; and (3) a proposal that companies disclose to shareholders the percentage of gays they employ.

Obviously, many corporate CEOs would stop hiring gays, de facto require gay conversion among current employees, and fire gays who failed the program, in order to maximize stock price and hence their own net worth.

Preposterous? Of course, but if Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Vitality Group and a few pharmaceutical companies get their way, this exact same scenario will befall overweight employees.  Indeed, two-thirds of this dystopian scenario is already in place:

  1. Despite proof to the contrary, the popular misperception is that working-age thin people have higher productivity and spend less on healthcare than working-age overweight people;
  2. To help bring weight discrimination into the boardroom, some wellness apologists — led by Ron Goetzel, of course — published a facile and misleading study in a third-tier journal (that had already admitted poor peer review practices) showing companies with wellness programs (the obesity equivalent of gay conversion in ineffectiveness, and almost as likely to harm participants) outperformed the stock market. The opposite is actually true, if one uses sector indexes as benchmarks. (This is the correct methodology with small numbers of companies concentrated in a few industries.  And it’s the correct result given the fact that conventional “pry, poke and prod” wellness loses money, period.)

To complete this trifecta of weight discrimination, all that remains is to convince publicly traded corporations to disclose the weight of their employees…and that’s exactly what this cabal — led by J&J and Vitality —  proposed at Davos.  (They also want companies to disclose their stress levels. I have no idea how one measures stress. The one company that tried measuring stress, Keas, failed both miserably–and, this being the wellness industry, hilariously.)

Weight measures used by companies are also facile and misleading.  Typically — as with Vitality Group, an outspoken advocate of this proposed regulation — they use the Body Mass Index, or BMI. The BMI was invented by a mathematician 200 years ago, using a simplistic formula that he could never really justify…and yet has been the de facto standard for measuring overweight ever since. It’s misleading along many dimensions. Further, it now turns out that the whole workplace BMI obsession might be pointless, as people with normal BMIs are at higher risk than people with high BMIs, if their weight is distributed badly.  Most recently, it’s been shown to be just plain wrong, doing a horrible disservice to overweight people and, in some workplaces, costing them money,

While I can’t explain why PepsiCo would be signing on other than for corporate image reasons, the agendas of J&J and Vitality are quite clear: disclosing weight to shareholders would encourage publicly traded companies to use “pry, poke and prod” workplace wellness services, which they coincidentally happen to provide.  (The drug companies involved, such as Novo Nordisk, stand to benefit from selling more drugs.)

Unintended Ironies: A Hallmark of Wellness  

Ironically, though, during that same Davos meeting, Vitality also candidly admitted that their wellness services don’t work even in the best-case scenario of their own employees.  That admission undermines the entire fiction that this scheme would somehow benefit the employees being fat-shamed.

Here is another irony.  (One hallmark of the wellness industry is its obliviousness to its own many ironies.) This industry thrives on being totally unregulated — uniquely in healthcare, wellness companies and individuals face no licensing, education, training, oversight or certification requirements.  Consequently they can and do get away with whatever they want. And yet now they want every other company to make more disclosures in regulated filings, for no purpose other than enhancing their own bottom lines.

Still another irony: The prime schemer behind this initiative, David Yach of Vitality, assured STATNews that existing laws would prevent employees from bring fired due to weight. But “existing laws” don’t prevent anything in wellness now. A federal court says it’s fine to deny insurance to employees for failing to participate in wellness. And despite flouting federal health guidelines with impunity, no wellness vendor has ever been prosecuted for doing things to employees that would get doctors sent to jail.  And as Health Fitness Corporation learned, you can lie to states as much as you want about anything — including saving the lives of cancer victims who don’t have cancer — and not be prosecuted. Indeed, no wellness company or program has ever been successfully prosecuted or sued for anything under “existing laws.”

The Inevitable Result: Institutionalized Weight Discrimination

Many things in life have unforeseeable consequences. However, the consequence here is perfectly foreseeable:  If you are overweight or especially if you are obese, you should be able to keep your current job if your company likes your work. But your chances of getting hired anew by a publicly traded company — if you are competing for the job with an almost-but-not-quite-equally qualified thin person — would nosedive.

I rarely editorialize in this blog, because I don’t have to — facts are the wellness industry’s worst nightmare.  (See the Vitality example above.  I don’t need to come out and say they’re clueless. I merely highlight the data they themselves helpfully provided to make that conclusion self-evident.)  However, I’ll make an exception here: I find it appalling that J&J, Vitality, and Novo Nordisk advocate subjecting huge numbers of employees to institutionalized discrimination and to programs that they admit don’t work, simply to make a few bucks.



A Festivus Special: The Year’s Funniest Vendors — Keas, Star, and Vivify

In the spirit of Festivus, we reprise four of the funniest vendors we’ve highlighted in 2015 that you might have overlooked. In more ways than one, these vendors didn’t get as many hits as they deserved:

and just to be fair and balanced…

Seasons Greetings from all (both) of us here at They Said What?


Keas Meets Lake Wobegon: Everyone Is Above Average (in Stress)

Today we reprise the Keas Stress Survey.  If laughter is the best medicine, an excellent way to reduce stress is to read this survey, using our handy guide below.  Funnier still, we asked Keas all these questions below many months ago, and not only did they not answer them for us, but they didn’t even bother to correct these mistakes on their own website despite all the violations of rules of simple arithmetic. And as we have pointed out on many occasions, rules of arithmetic are strictly enforced.

keas 41 percent

You write that 41% of employees are reporting above-average stress. Shouldn’t that mean another 41% are also below average in stress? We can’t seem to find any mention of even a single employee being below average in your survey.

ANS: Refused to answer

Of those 41% reporting above average stress, you say:

keas sleep

So 24% of 40% of 41% are losing sleep due to work?  Isn’t that 4%?  So 96% of employees are not losing sleep due to work.  Isn’t this a good thing?

ANS:  We didn’t even bother to ask

keas key figures

You say 72% of women experience above-average levels of stress while only 28% of men do. Since women comprise nearly half the workforce, shouldn’t those two figures weight-average out to nearly 50% rather than 41%, assuming you sampled correctly?

ANS: Refused to answer

If indeed only 28% of men report above average levels of stress, doesn’t that imply that 72% of men aren’t unduly stressed and therefore stress reduction for men need not be a corporate priority?

ANS: Refused to answer

You say high stress “causes” many diseases, but every disease you list except depression affects more men than women. Doesn’t this claim that stress causes these diseases contradict your finding that women are three times as stressed as men?

High stress

ANS: Refused to answer

You also claim that high stress levels can also “worsen” a “myriad” of conditions? If that were indeed the case and women have three times the stress of men, how is it that women live five years longer than men?

ANS: Refused to answer

keas average normal

You use the words “average” and “normal” with regard to stress as synonyms, but aren’t they often antonyms? While all of us want our kids to be normal, are you aware of anyone who wants their kids to be average?

ANS: Refused to answer

Just like in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average, is the goal of your anti-stress recommendations to reach a point where everyone’s stress is below average?

ANS: Refused to answer

keas vitamin c

Should you be advising people to take Vitamin C pills when the Mayo Clinic is advising not taking them? Where is the peer-reviewed major journal evidence that Vitamin C pills reduce stress for people who, like most employed Americans, already get adequate Vitamin C?

keas a good chance of unhealthy

ANS: Refused to answer

Can you point us to the objective evidence that says that unhealthy employees can be “fixed,” especially using a stress-reduction program?

ANS: Refused to answer

How much of the additional 36% that “employers at large companies” are paying for healthcare now (vs. five years ago) is due to an increase in medical events in the disease categories that you say are caused by stress? How do you reconcile that statistic with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ) database indicating that inpatient medical event rates in the disease categories you listed have declined over this five-year period?

ANS: Refused to answer

Likewise, how do you reconcile that 36% increase statistic with the AHRQ’s database finding only about 7% of medical spending is due to inpatient events in those categories you say are caused by stress?

ANS: Refused to answer

Three times the productivity

If companies “where health is actively promoted are three times more productive,” does that mean that a wellness program would allow pilots to fly three times faster? Could class sizes be increased from 20 to 60? Could doctors cure three times as many patients? Could police arrest three times as many criminals? Could customer service recordings could tell us our calls were three times more important to them?

Could Walmart could run its stores with a third as many employees if they were actively told to get into better shape?

ANS: Refused to answer

More importantly, wouldn’t a two-thirds reduction in staff increase stress on the remaining employees, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid?

ANS: Refused to answer

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