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Ron Goetzel Spins Gold into Straw, Part 1

I would invite everyone to join tomorrow (Tuesday’s) webinar by Ron Goetzel. He will be attempting to undermine the National Bureau of Economic Research’s (NBER) outstanding University of Illinois study, which showed — surprise — that conventional wellness programs don’t come close to changing behavior, let alone saving money. I would love to attend, but I, of course, am not invited to his events any more than he is invited to mine. Oh, wait a sec, I invite him to all my events and alert him to all my postings on linkedin so that he can correct any errors I’ve made. Sorry, my memory failed me there for a second.

Speaking of failed memories, he is being joined on this webinar by Jessica Grossmeier. If that name rings a bill, it’s because she claimed her company, Staywell, saved $17,000 per risk factor reduced — about $3000/pound shed — for British Petroleum, having forgotten that she herself claimed it is only possible to save $105/avoided risk factor. See “British Petroleum Wellness Program is Spewing Invalidity.”

Despite this being the Gold Standard of randomized control trials, he will be accusing the NBER of many errors.  (A cynic might note that being accused of making errors in a wellness study by Ron Goetzel is like being accused of cheating on your taxes by Paul Manafort. ) He will argue that:

  1. The study only covered the first year — he won’t mention that the authors also said the first year suggests nothing “is trending towards savings” in future years either;
  2. The study contradicts — you guessed it — Kate Baicker’s infamous 3.27-to-1 ROI, without mentioning that the NBER’s principal investigator, as coincidence would have it, reports to Kate Baicker, so it’s pretty unlikely he would diss her unless the data left him no choice;
  3. The study contradicts all the other findings out there — except for all the other studies testing the par-vs-non-par study design against a benchmark, all of which showed results quite literally identical to the University of Illinois result, in that the wellness program accomplished zero;*
  4. The participants outperformed the non-participants;
  5. They haven’t reported on the screening yet;
  6. It wasn’t a good program. To hear Ron tell it (literally hear him tell it — you can listen to the tape), anytime a program fails, it’s because it wasn’t done correctly. “100 employers [have] programs with really smart ingredients…but thousands of others still don’t do wellness right,” are his exact words in print.  He is refusing to name any of them, other than the old Johnson & Johnson analysis. (J&J is a wellness vendor. Investigator bias, anyone?)

What else will he argue? Tough to say. One thing for certain: he won’t mention my name — any more than Bravo did when they wrongly predicted that the EEOC rules would be replaced in January while I predicted the opposite.  Instead he uses a new vernacular for my postings:  “Industry chatter.”

He probably picked up this idea from Bravo, which uses the phrase “industry noise” to describe me.


Where’s Waldo-meets-Ron Goetzel: Spot the errors and you may win a big prize

So let’s make this interesting. Whoever comes up with the best smackdown of the webinar’s obvious fallacies (and omissions) automatically gets entered in the contest to win the Martha’s Vineyard vacation, with the house, car and private (well, semi-private) beach. It is otherwise open only to people who have won various Quizzify trivia contests, but being able to identify five or ten pieces of “chatter” or “noise” in this self-anointed “expert webinar” clearly counts as being health-literate.  To compete, send me an email with an attachment. I’ll pick a couple of finalists and put them on linkedin. (If you don’t want your name used — and Ron does bite back, so I don’t blame you — I will post on my own.)

*The result is also quite consistent with Ron’s observation that there is basically no change in behavior leading to risk reduction. If we are splitting hairs here, Ron found a 1-2% reduction, not 0%. Of course, that took three years.





A vendor’s guide to snookering self-insured employers

Dear Wellness, Diabetes, Clinic, Price Transparency, and Medication Therapy Management Vendors,

While most of you already know the majority of these tricks, there might be a few you haven’t deployed yet. So take good notes.


Al Lewis

PS If you are an employer, just pass this along to your vendors…and watch your savings skyrocket. Or use “An Employer’s Guide to NOT being snookered” to see your savings become realistic.

Best practices for every vendor

Compare participants to non-participants. Using non-participants as a control for participants allows you to show massive savings without doing anything. This is not an overstatement. Here is a program — which naturally won an award for its brilliance from Ron Goetzel and his friends before I observed that they were a fraud according to their own data– that did just that. They separated participants from non-participants but didn’t bother to implement a program for two years—by which point the participants had already improved by 20% vs. the non-participants — without even having a program to participate in. (Note on this slide that the control and study group were set up in 2004 but the program didn’t start until 2006, when the cost separation had already reached the aforementioned 20%.)

Two other observational trials support this conclusion. Most recently, the National Bureau of Economic Research ran a controlled trial to test exactly this hypothesis. Sure enough, like the three observational trials, they found that virtually the entire outcome in wellness can be explained by that popular study design itself, rather than the intervention.

In any participation-based program, ignore dropouts. Assume that employees who drop out do so randomly, not because they are discouraged by their lack of progress or interest.

Draw a line upwards and then claim credit for the “savings” between the actual upward spending and the “trend” you drew. As Optum’s Seth Serxner stated so succinctly: “We can conclude that the choice of trend has a large impact on estimates of financial savings.”

Start with the ridiculously high utilizers, high-risk people, or people taking lots of drugs. Let the group regress to the mean, and then claim that as savings.

Never admit, like Wellsteps did, that you are familiar with regression to the mean, since most employers are not aware of it.  The higher the costs/risks of the original users, the more savings you can claim. Here are two verbatim claims:

  • A heavy equipment manufacturer found high use of the ER was a becoming a cost concern, so it send mailings that showed appropriate care settings to the homes of members with two or more visits to the ER in the past year. As a result, ER visits were down 59 percent those who got the mailing.
  • A pharmaceutical company saw a spike in ER claims was coming from repeated use by the same people, so two mailers were sent: one to households with one ER visit in the past year; another for those with two or more visits. Following the mailings, there was a 63 percent drop in ER visits.

Pretend not to notice that low utilizers can show an increase in utilization — or especially that low-risk people can increase in risk. Focus the mark (I mean, the customer) on the high-risk people who decline in risk. Never draw graphs to scale, or your customer might notice that 2/3 of their employees are low-risk in the first place.

Cigna chart

It doesn’t matter what your intervention is. Claim credit for the entire difference in trend. For instance, in this example, Community Care of North Carolina claimed credit for a huge reduction in PMPM costs for babies for their medical home program…but babies weren’t even included in the program. (Neonatal expenses didn’t decline either.)

Or do what Safeway did, launching the wellness craze: change to a high-deductible plan, and transfer a large chunk of costs to employees. Don’t even bother to institute a wellness program, but attribute all the savings (from the transferred deductible spending) to wellness anyway, so that you get invited to the White House.  And after that blows up on you, demonstrate that your very stable genius investment in wellness was not a fluke by investing your company’s money in Theranos.

Special Instructions for transparency tool vendors

Assume that every employee who uses your tool is looking to save their bosses some money, rather than (for instance) to find the closest MRI…and that none of them would have used a lower-cost venue absent your tool.

If only 10% of employees use your transparency tool, and only 10% of events are shoppable, nonetheless take credit for the entire difference in trend across the board, and ignore the literature showing online price-comparison tools don’t work.

If people who haven’t met their deductible shop more than people who have, attribute the former’s lower cost to use of the tool, rather than to the fact that by definition people who don’t meet their deductible spend less than people who blow through it.

Special instructions for wellness and diabetes vendors

If you are a wellness or diabetes prevention/management vendor, never ever let employers know that every year since statistics have been kept, fewer than 1 in 1000 employees/dependents end up in the hospital with diabetes.  (And another 1 in 1000 with a heart attack.) Always tell them how many employees are at risk and how many “newly discovered conditions” they have, and how they will all end up in the hospital, even though hospitalizations for heart attacks and diabetes in the employer-insured population have been declining for years.

Wellness vendors should always put the trivial percentage reduction in risk (for participants only, of course – and ignoring dropouts) on one page and the massive savings on another page. Most employers won’t bother to do the math to notice, for example, that Interactive Health claimed $50,000 in savings for every employee who reduced one risk factor, while the state of Nebraska won an award for claiming to save $20,000+ for every risk factor reduced, as did Staywell for British Petroleum.

If you didn’t reduce risk factors, present your outcomes in a format no one can make heads or tails of, like this one, from Wellsteps. If Wellsteps was able to snooker an entire committee of self-anointed outcomes experts to win an award for program excellence, surely you can snooker a few customers.

Claiming people lose weight is a big part of your outcome reporting, so make sure to do the following:

  1. Never count nonparticipants, and ignore dropouts.
  2. Don’t do any long-term follow-up to see who regained the weight (most participants)
  3. Give them time to binge before the initial weigh-in

Special instructions for diabetes vendors

In addition to measuring on active participants only, raise the bar for Hb A1c so that only people with high Hb A1c’s can be included. That belt-and-suspenders approach will ensure that you can’t fail to show savings, even if (as is likely the case) you don’t change anyone’s behavior other than the employees who were going to change anyway, which you might as well count.

Next — most diabetes vendors and a few wellness vendors have already figured this out — you can charge much more if you can submit claims, rather than just be an admin expense line item. You see, most employers focus much more on the 10% admin expense than they do the 90% medical expense, which they consider to be beyond their control.  Your claims expense – which would draw attention to itself as an admin cost — won’t get noticed in the 90% of medical losses, sort of like the dirt from the tunnel sprinkled around the Stalag in The Great Escape.

Special instructions for medication therapy management vendor

Only mention “gaps in care” that you close, not the ones that open up. And, as noted in the chart below, always use percentages. So in this chart (provided by one of the major PBMs), they claimed that twice as many gaps were closed (37%) vs opened (18%), and yet, as is almost always the case with MTM vendors, nothing happened to the total number of gaps, which remained at exactly 820:


Tally all the employees who were on large numbers of meds and now take fewer. But don’t mention all the employers who were on fewer meds and now take more.

What to do if you’re asked why you aren’t validated by the Validation Institute

Here are the most popular answers to that question:

  1. No one has asked us to. (Quizzify didn’t need to be asked.)
  2. We hired our own outside actuarial firm to validate us, and they concluded we save a lot of money.
  3. Sure, we’ll get validated as soon as you sign the contract.


We interrupt this program…

I have several new posts ready to go — the usual suspects acting out in their usual hilarious fashion — but this is a serious post.

It is time for wellness vendors to stop harassing employees about their weight.

A new article summarizing the voluminous data on the futility and harms of weight-shaming just appeared. It doesn’t contain new data, but rather presents the existing evidence in a clear and compelling format.

This article finds fault in the physician community, but the wellness industry (the outcomes-based companies and their enablers at the Health Enhancement Research Organization (and their enabler-in-chief, Ron Goetzel) is even worse because they tie money to weight loss. They give employees a financial reason to binge before the first weigh-in and then dehydrate themselves and crash-diet before the last one.

This does nobody any good, except of course the outcomes-based wellness vendors — like Interactive Health, Wellsteps, Wellness Corporate Solutions, Staywell, Bravo, Total Wellness, Star Wellness, Health Fitness Corporation and probably a host of others.  And there is a special dishonorable mention for HealthyWage, whose entire business model is corporate crash-dieting contests.

They aren’t going to agree to stop on their own, any more than Monsanto stopped making DDT on its own volition. They need to have it made clear that this behavior won’t be tolerated any more.

Action Steps

A starting point is this linkedin post.  Like it, comment on it, share it.  Once we get to 100 likes and comments, and we’re already more than halfway, I can probably generate media attention.


Is your wellness vendor snookering you? Take this quiz to find out.

Is your wellness vendor snookering you? There are certain facts that vendors are not exactly forthcoming about. This is because facts represent an existential threat to the “pry, poke and prod” industry. See how many facts you know — and how many they’ve suppressed — by taking this quiz.

You’ll earn more points, the closer you are. You don’t have to be exact — and honestly I’d worry about you if you got the exact answers to every question. I’d love you for it, but I’d still worry about you.

  1. Wellness vendors claim they can save significant money by reducing hospital admissions for diabetes and heart attacks, because those admissions are very common. How many admissions per 1000 covered lives does the average employer incur in a typical year?

  2. The Health Enhancement Research Organization claims a certain savings figure for wellness PEPM. But that’s before taking into account vendor fees, extra doctor visits, tests, and prescriptions, compliance issues, employee time needed, overhead and basically anything else. In other words, what is the PEPM savings figure that at Bain & Company we used to refer to as “profit before cost”? Answer to the nearest one dollar. Hint:  the answer is somewhere in this quiz.

  3. To eventually save money someday, you first need to improve/reduce the risk profile of your population. According to eternal optimist and wellness promoter-in-chief Ron Goetzel, what is the maximum percent improvement in a risk profile that a company can expect after 2 to 3 years of wellness programming @$150 PEPY?

  4. Speaking of Ron Goetzel, he said “thousands of wellness programs” fail to get good outcomes. What round number did he claim have succeeded?

  5. And speaking of Ron Goetzel again, he finally admitted it was “hard” to force employees to change behavior. How many “very’s” did he put in front of the word “hard” in that admission?

  6. The Wishful Thinking Factor, totally coincidentally abbreviated as WTF, is defined as: Total claimed cost reduction/total number of risk factors reduced. What is the average WTF for the last six Koop Award-winning programs, on average? (Hint: the real ratio of savings to risk reduction is about 0.05x, since even if savings does not lag risk reduction, a maximum of 5% of spending is wellness-sensitive.)

  7. Speaking of risk reduction, employees in the most recent Koop Award-winning program, Wellsteps/Boise, originally tallied 5293 risk factors. Approximately how many risk factors did those same employees tally after participating, excluding dropouts?

  8. In a participants-vs-non-participants study design, what percent of the perceived savings is due to the invalidity introduced by the study design itself in which unmotivated employees are used as the control for motivated employees, rather than health improvements attributable to the actual program itself, according to all four studies conducted on this topic, including three by wellness promoters?

  9. If you use Interactive Health as a vendor hyperdiagnosing the stuffing out of your workforce, what is the annual percentage of employees that will likely be told they have “newly discovered conditions”  that “require” a doctor’s intervention?

  10. Of 1000+ wellness vendors, how many are validated by the Validation Institute?


  1. 2. Yes, only 2. All this wellness fuss is about 2 admissions per 1000 employees. Derivation: the roughly 150,000,000 employees and dependents covered by commercial insurance (mostly from employers) generate roughly 150,000 heart attacks and 120,000 diabetes events.  See the HCUP database and enter “410” for heart attacks and 250 for diabetes admissions for the ICD9 for the most recent full year (2014). Scoring: Give yourself 1 point for guessing 4 to 10 and 2 points for guessing fewer than 4.  

  2. One dollar. $0.99 PEPY. As is well-known, they tried to walk this figure back once they realized they had told the truth. Scoring: Give yourself 1 points for guessing $1.00, since the answer in the hint was on that very same line.

  3. 2%. That’s a few dollars PEPY in savings. (Looks like the HERO report was pretty close, its own protestations notwithstanding.) And you paid $450/employee over 3 years to achieve it.   Actually it was 1% to 2%, but we asked for the maximum. Scoring: Give yourself 2 points for 2% or less, 1 point for 4% or less. 

  4. Only 100. Besides Johnson & Johnson, Mr. Goetzel has never disclosed any of the other 99 without others making the observation that they self-invalidate according to their own data. Scoring: 2 points for 200 or fewer, 1 point for 400 or fewer.

  5. 4. In The Healthy Workplace Nudge, Rex Miller gets Ron Goetzel to admit that “changing behavior is very very very very hard.” Gosh, Ron, do you suppose this might explain why an employer population’s risk factors never noticeably decline? Scoring: 2 points for 4, 1 point for 3 or 5.

  6. Infinity. That’s because of the next question. The 21% risk factor increase for Wellsteps more than offset the trivial risk reductions achieved by the previous years’ winners. The actual WTFs for the previous years will be the subject of a future posting. Scoring: give yourself a point if you guessed that the WTF was 5 or higher. That would be 100 times the actual figure and still way below the wellness fantasy-league figure.

  7. 6397. Risk factors rose 21%. And yet somehow, even though the risk profile was deteriorating sharply, the risk profile of the population was also improving enough for Wellsteps to claim that healthcare costs declined 30%. 30% is enough to wipe out wellness-sensitive medical events for the entire Boise teacher population and about 30,000 of their closest friends. (Wellsteps originally admitted that costs increased, but took that slide down when it occurred to them that telling the truth would be inconsistent with their marketing strategy.) Scoring: 1 points for 5500 to 6000 or 6600 to 7000, 2 points for 6001 to 6599.

  8. 100%. It turns out that the participant-vs-non-participant study design is responsible for all the perceived savings that wellness vendors claim for programs. The New York Times just explained how, in the landmark University of Illinois study, both the “gold standard” RCT methodology and the invalid par-vs-non-par methodology were used and had completely different results. This also happened three other times (summarized here) — with Newtopia, Health Fitness Corporation, and a study done by the chairperson of the Koop Committee showing how feeding diabetics more carbs would reduce their costs by improving their health. Literally, 4 studies — all of which were run by people trying to show savings — showed exactly the same thing. Scoring: all or nothing — 1 points for 100%.

  9. 45%. This is because running 40 inappropriate tests on every employee makes it inevitable that at least 1 or 2 of those tests reveal a false positive. Scoring: Give yourself 2 points for guessing between 40% and 50%, 1 point for 30% to 39% or 51% to 60%.

  10. Four. All four are honest and make modest claims they can defend or valid contractual representations.  AND, they actually screen according to guidelines! (In the wellness industry, doing something appropriate merits an exclamation point.) They are: It Starts With Me, Splashlight, Sustainable Health Index, and US Preventive Medicine. That’s <1% of all wellness vendors. Scoring: give yourself 1 points for 8 or fewer.



0-2 points. Has your wellness vendor sold you a bridge too?

3-5 points:  Your wellness vendor is blocking your internet connection

6-9 points:  Nice work!

>9 points:  Send your fifth-grade math teacher a thank-you note for doing a better job than the wellness vendors’ teachers did.


Our forgetful wellness promoters, Part 1 (Ron Goetzel)

Ron Goetzel seems to have memory problems. How do we know this?  He has taken completely contradictory positions on 14 occasions, having apparently forgotten the second time what he said the first time.

I know what you’re thinking: “Only on 14 occasions?”

Of course not, silly. I’m talking about 14 occasions during a single 90-minute period.

That 90 minutes was the so-called “Great Debate” between him and me a couple of years ago. Who won? Well, you don’t see him posting this debate on his website, do you?  I didn’t post this until now because only recently has transcription software become sufficiently accurate. You can read/listen by clicking through on the time stamps in each section, any one of which also give you access to the entire thing.

These 14 snippets feature two sets of statements that would seem to be at complete variance with each other. While I’m not calling anyone a liar, it does seem that Ron is forgetful. Very very forgetful.

On his own willingness to correct his own mistakes

Minute 08:28 “Anytime we hear about things that are wrong, we look into them and try to correct them.”

Except when he forgets to do so, as in when he gives out awards to his friends who have publicly admitted lying and harming employees.

On the Penn State wellness program debacle

Minute 13:03 “I had nothing to do with Penn State.”

He might have forgotten that he participated in their press conference “taking the offensive in the wellness controversy.” 

On his concerns for informing the wellness debate with facts

Minute 29:54 “And by the way, in doing research, we look for limitations. We look for critiques….I welcome public peer review.”

Except when he forgets to welcome critiques and public peer review, as when he circulates letters to the media telling them not to publish my critiques.

On my misdeeds and lack of qualifications to do peer review

Minute 30:38  “Some of the stuff that Al talks about and points out is right on the money and I agree and I said so in the Health Affairs blog that I’ve written, but some of the stuff is really out there. It’s outlandish.”

Except that he can’t seem to recall even a single “outlandish” example. 

Al: “Ron, I appreciate your giving me credit for being qualified to do peer review. Would you say that I’m the most qualified person, in terms of number of mistakes found, to do peer review?”

Ron: “No.”

Except when he is about to admit that I am…

Al: “Well, who has found more mistakes than I have?”

Ron: [silence]

Audience: [Laughter]

This might explain why he and his cronies always “forget” to ask me to peer review.  Though for his most recent Health Affairs article, he did remember to list me as someone who he did not want to peer review his article. I reviewed it anyway — after publication…and, like most of his stuff, it spontaneously combusts upon exposure to any possessor of a triple-digit IQ.

On throwing his Wellsteps friend, Steve Aldana (proud recipient of the 2016 Deplorables Award), under the bus

Minute 34:03: “I’m not gonna answer for Steve Aldana.”

Hmm… he seems to have forgotten this bold statement when he “answered for” Steve Aldana after I blew the whistle on Mr. Aldana’s Wellsteps debacle in Boise. Ron defended him even though it meant acknowledging that Wellsteps is arguably the worst vendor in wellness history, as measured by self-admitted harms to employees, lies about outcomes, and misapplication of clinical guidelines. 

On applying for the million-dollar reward

Minute 34:33 A million dollars is a lot of money and I’ll take it.

Except he forgot to apply. Even when I raised the reward to $3 million.

On his failure to observe that his own guidebook showed wellness loses money

Minute 45:14 “I was not involved in the chapter that looks at healthcare costs.”

Oops! He forgot that he and the other HERO board members and other collaborators spent “two years and countless hours of research and discussions” on this, as the first paragraph of the guidebook claims, and as the chapter’s author gratefully acknowledged.  Also, Ron is considered HERO’s resident expert on study design and outcomes. He claims to have published 171 articles, mostly involving study design and outcomes. And yet, he says he simply passed on reviewing a chapter on study design and outcomes in his own organization’s seminal guidebook on this topic, because over two years he couldn’t find the time. Or maybe he just forgot.

On walking back his own guidebook

Minute 45:26 “Those numbers [in his guidebook] are wildly off…Every number in that chapter has nothing to do with reality.”

He must have forgotten this when he claimed the same thing in the Chicago Tribune: that wellness could achieve a 1-2% reduction in risk in 2-3 years. That works out, optimistically, to achieve almost the same $1 per employee per month gross savings “in reality” (before vendor and screening fees, of course) that his very same guidebook claims. 

On the Nebraska scandal

Minute 53:54 “Yes, state of Nebraska did win the Koop award. They won the award because they had solid evidence. They improved the health risk profile of the population following a cohort population over time.”

His memory is playing tricks on him again. Their “solid evidence” quite conclusively demonstrates the opposite. Of 20,000 state employees, only 161 more reduced risk than increased it. 

On his ability to evaluate the Nebraska outcomes

Minute 53:59 “They also use excellent methods in doing economic evaluation.”

He forgot that these “excellent methods” contained so many rookie mistakes that the Validation Institute uses this “economic evaluation” as the issue-spotter for their Advanced Critical Outcomes Report Analysis Certification. The entirety of Chapter 8 of Surviving Workplace Wellness is devoted to all the hilarity in this program’s design and outcomes. Indeed this program would save a ton of money if laughter were the best medicine. Here is the Omaha World-Herald’s write-up

On programs that penalize employees with surcharges

Minute 01:00:55 “Health promotion programs that are evidence-based and that work are not surcharge programs that you [a questioner in the audience] described, and I agree.”

He forgot that he disagrees, and defends punitive surcharge programs (or at least to tries to)

On how programs don’t need to save money

Minute 01:15:57 “An ROI of one to one is good enough for me.”

He might have forgotten he told people to “expect a 3-to-1 ROI.”

On his commitment to improving population health

Minute 01:15:57  “You give me a dollar, you get a dollar back, but you have to document that you’ve improved population health… You have to show that you’ve improved population health. Not just one or two people, the entire population.”

He did seem to forget this principle when he gave an award to his friends at Wellsteps who harmed “not just one or two people but the entire population.”

On Medicare’s wellness program

Minute 01:25:43 “Randomized clinical trials show population participated in the program versus control had significantly improved health outcomes, did not cost Medicare a dime, cost neutral.”

He might have forgotten that the actual conclusion was: “Utilization and expenditures actually increased among participants, mirroring the experience in the corporate world.”


I’ve often recommended that Ron have his statements reviewed by a smart person before publishing them. I would now add, a smart person taking notes.

Special Bonus Feature: Ron “endorses” Quizzify…until he doesn’t.

Minute [42:57] “Did go on the [Quizzify] website. It was a lot of fun, very clever.”

See the punchline in the comments. Glad to know he thinks employee health literacy is worthless.

Extensive Wellness Industry Expose Reaches Popularity Milestone

The most comprehensive expose of the “pry, poke and prod” industry is likely to have broken the 1000-download threshold by the time you read this.

Published by the leading law-medicine journal, it is their second-most-popular paper of all time. Curiously, while this is the oldest law-medicine journal in the country and has covered a multitude of topics over many decades, the most popular paper of all time is also a smackdown of pry, poke and prod programs.

Because TSW doesn’t lie (that’s part of the reason we are so unpopular amongst the HERO crowd and its sycophants), I would acknowledge that the methodology they use to measure popularity favors more recently published articles, and ours is “only” a year old. Even so it is quite a feat because, while we are close on the feels of #1, there is a big gap between us and the #3 article.

In the structured world of law, as opposed to the “Wild West” of wellness, there are rules. That’s why I chose the leading law-medicine venue for this expose.

One rule of evidence is that some of the best evidence — one of the few exceptions to the hearsay exclusion — is what’s known as an “admission against interest.” An admission against interest is “a statement by a party that, when uttered, is against the party’s pecuniary, proprietary, or penal interest.”  It’s even more compelling if it is captured electronically, as on a live mic, or in print.

The best example is Robert Durst accidentally admitting that he killed his wife during a bathroom break while being interviewed for a documentary, when he was still miked. You’d have to be, as Larry David might say, pretty pretty pretty pretty stupid to make admissions against interest when you are miked or in print.

One would think.

And yet the wellness industry’s entire modus operandi is to do exactly that. All that remains is for someone like me to point these things out, take a screen shot (the equivalent of Durst being miked), and then sit back, make some popcorn, and watch them react. Reacting is also a form of evidence. Reacting the way a guilty person would react is prima facie evidence of guilt. (To use the examples from the TSW landing page, think OJ and the white Bronco or Lance Armstrong and just about anything he said or did after being accused.)

Needless to say, the wellness industry’s very stable geniuses never step out of character when it comes to guilty reactions. This runs the gamut. Sometimes, as with Bravo, they pull down the incriminating screenshot immediately after being outed. Or, as with Interactive Health, they simply excise the incriminating data from their “research report” and call it a “research summary.” (And also they try to bribe me not to talk about them any more. I’m just sayin’…)

Or, as with Wellsteps, they act out with unsupported and creatively spelled recriminations.

Or sometimes simply trying to erase history. This is the specialty of Ron “The Pretzel” Goetzel, twisting and turning his words to do exactly that, not realizing that we keep screenshots. Here is the “before” and “after” picture of him erasing the smoking-gun evidence that a program’s “impact” was due entirely to separation into participants-vs-non-participants rather than pry, poke and prod. Note that from 2004 to 2006, separation between participants and non-participants increased almost 20%before there was even a program to participate in.

Before (what really happened):

In order to maintain the fiction that participants-vs-non-participants is a valid study design, Ron simply removed the labels from the x-axis:

Lest anyone domiciled in a state where marijuana is now legal think the first one was a mistake and was corrected as soon as they noticed, they actually repeatedly reprinted and reused the original in many forums, like this one:

Sometimes, and this was my favorite of Ron “The Pretzel” Goetzel’s twists and turns, he literally rewrote history, in the form of forging a letter from the Governor of Nebraska, once he admitted the initial claim of saving the lives of 514 cancer victims was exposed as a fraud:


nebraska cancer koop award


nebraska polyps

Here is your assignment: pass this along to everyone you know and ask them to read the article. Then hopefully it will be time to write the history of wellness the way it should be written. And keep a screenshot in case Goetzel tries to rewrite it.


The Workplace Wellness Industry’s Body-Shaming Hall of Shame

Note that this personal blog post does not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which I am affiliated, other than the one with which I co-founded.  I am referring, of course, to the Needham Frisbee Club, where everyone is welcome to join and play and become fitter — since fitness at any size, not corporate crash-dieting contests, is the key to health.

By now, many facts are well-known about weight and weight loss programs:

Further, while perhaps not proven, there is growing evidence, also here, and here, that weight cycling may be hazardous to health. (This would likely be particularly true when an employer ties incentives to gaining weight for the first weigh-in in order to lose it by the second weigh-in.)

And, yet, a number of the workplace wellness industry’s very stable geniuses have chosen to body-shame employees.  The individuals and companies listed below are the wellness industry’s leading body-shamers, charter members of the Body-Shaming Hall of Shame. No surprise that wellness luminaries are leading the charge towards body-shaming, as their industry has repeatedly been called words like “sham” and “scam” by Pulitzer Prize-winning media outlets not otherwise known for name-calling.

Where possible, we have provided contact information, that you can use to let the appropriate people know how you feel about endorsing body-shaming in the workplace. Obviously, one can never eliminate discrimination based on body type, but hopefully this exposé, and creating the Body Shaming Hall of Fame, will reverse the trend towards employer support of weight discrimination in wellness programs.

Troy Adams, Wellsteps

Wellsteps is known in general for harming employees, and won a Deplorables Award in 2016 for harassing Boise School District employees. Mr. Adams cemented his and Wellsteps’ candidacy for this list by declaring: “It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy.” After receiving many complaints, he took that article down. But he never apologized and Wellsteps continues to pitch “wellness or else” programs in which employees are fined if they can’t lose weight.

Ignorance of physiology (fines and incentives have never cured any disease known to mankind) is quite consistent with the rest of Wellsteps’ philosophy. They also have no understanding of arithmetic (costs can’t increase and decrease at the same time), drinking (it is OK to have wine with dinner or a beer at a ballgame), smoking (smokers don’t take their first steps to quitting by smoking only on weekdays), nutrition (“one more bite of a banana” will not improve your health), and arithmetic again.

You can let Wellsteps’ largest client know how you feel about this by writing to the Boise School Committee at and copying the editor of the local newspaper, Rhonda Prast, at

Michael O’Donnell, American Journal of Health Promotion

Michael O’Donnell served, until recently, as the prevaricator-in-chief of the industry trade publication, the American Journal of Health Promotion, which might as well be called the American Journal of Self- Promotion, for the simple reason that – despite the overwhelmingly poor economics of “pry, poke and prod” programs and their strong likelihood of harming employees – they have published only one single sentence critical of wellness…and when that was discovered to have slipped through pre-publication review by their thought police, they walked it back in the next issue.

Mr. O’Donnell was voted into the Hall of Shame thanks to his proposal to charge employees for insurance based on BMIs, a “pay what you weigh” approach, like ordering lobsters or sending a package.

His proposal should be read in its entirety (or at least the hilariously annotated version). Here are a few highlights:

  • Prospective new hires should be subjected to an intrusive physical exam and hired only if they are in good shape.  OK, not every single prospective new hire — only those applying for “blue collar jobs or jobs that require excessive walking, standing, or even sitting.”   Hence, he would waive the physical exam requirement for mattress-tester, prostitute, or outcomes analyst for a wellness company – because those jobs require only excessive lying.
  • Employees above his ideal weight would pay per pound.
  • He would “set the standard for BMI at the level where medical costs are lowest.” Since people with very low BMIs incur higher costs than people with middling BMIs, Mr. O’Donnell would fine not only people who weigh more than his ideal, but also employees with anorexia.

If employees didn’t already have an eating disorder, what better way of giving them one — and hence extracting more penalties from them — than to levy fines based on their weight?

We aren’t making this up. Here is an excerpt:

He claims that all these weigh-ins and fines will create an “insanely great program” for employees, whether they like it or not.

Vitality Group, Johnson & Johnson – and Ron Goetzel

Where would a wellness-related Hall of Shame be without Ron Goetzel? Name a debacle or scandal in wellness, and his fingerprints are on it. Penn State, Nebraska, McKesson, Bravo/Graco, and of course Wellsteps come immediately to mind.

He was also the very stable genius behind the Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax. The Fat Tax  was supposed to be a game-changer, ostracizing overweight folks with the misfortune of working for publicly traded corporations. In this scheme, companies would weigh their employees and then disclose those weights to shareholders. The shareholders would presumably reward those companies doing the best job of reducing employee weight, creating more profit for the wellness vendors, like Vitality or Johnson & Johnson, who would help employees lose weight. Ultimately it would be a tax, in that every employer that did not hire a wellness company and/or fire fat employees would see its stock price tumble, making wellness a mandatory fee.

While this “fat tax” would go a long way towards achieving the Wellness Ignorati’s goal of monetizing body-shaming, bringing financial disclosure into the picture raises all sorts of regulatory issues. Could you force employees to be weighed in order to meet SEC disclosure rules? What if employees cheated on the weigh-in, as employees are wont to do? Would that create a Sarbanes-Oxley violation?

There are three ironies here. It turns out that companies that are obsessed with prying, poking and prodding their employees, like McKesson, watch their stock prices tumble. And companies specifically obsessed with goading their employees into crash-dieting contests, like Schlumberger’s chart below, have the worst stock performance of all.

Second, it turns out that Vitality can’t get its own employees to lose weight, and yet they want you to hire them to get your employees to lose weight.

Finally – and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – there is zero correlation between employee weight and corporate performance.

Mr. Goetzel works for Johns Hopkins and often places their name on his essays. If you have an opinion on whether Johns Hopkins should be supporting institutionalized body-shaming, you can express your opinion by writing to Dean Ellen MacKenzie at .

Honorable mentions

Dr. Delos “Toby” Cosgrove, president of the Cleveland Clinic. After commenting that he would not hire smokers at the Clinic, he added that he would not hire obese people if he could legally deny them jobs.

So he doesn’t want to work with obese people, except if they happen to be president.

Dr. David Katz coined the term “oblivobesity” because apparently, he feels we have not yet made larger people feel bad enough about themselves to force them to do something about their weight – the difficulty of which has apparently been overstated because, according to Katz writing in the Huffington Post:

“There are rare cases of extreme weight loss resistance and such, but by and large, we can lose weight and find health by eating well and being active. Really.”

He deftly rebuts 30-plus years of consistent and conclusive research to the contrary by adding “really” to the end. Because everyone knows that makes a statement true. Really.

He also continues to illustrate his postings with pictures of headless fat people. And then there is his defense of Dr. Oz.

Please feel free to contact us about additional “shamers” you would like to add to the list along with the reasons why.



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