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Expose of Corporate Weight-Shaming Programs Among Year’s Top Articles

surviving cover with no promotion

We published “Employers Should Disband Corporate Weight Control Programs,” in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Managed Care, in February.  We recently learned that it is trending close to #1 for the year among articles in this and related journals.  Its findings have never been challenged, with no critical comments or letters to the editor by wellness vendors or consultants.

If you struggle with weight, you are probably wondering why your employer appears to be discriminating against you by weight-shaming you.   The answer is that while a company would certainly want to facilitate employees’ desires to become healthier on their own, there is no economic basis for fining employees or withholding incentives based on weight.

It’s not just that the threat of financial forfeiture (penalties or lost incentives) doesn’t help people lose weight.  Here are highlights from the rest of the article:

(1) As ShapeUp has shown when confronted with the invalidity of its data (and being fired by Highmark as a result of it), vendors’ weight-loss figures are basically fabricated. Here is an article showing how that fabrication takes place, the “Last Man Standing” fallacy.

(2) Weight generally does not affect job performance.  At the CEO level, this is generally known.  That’s why when new factories are built, they tend to go up in states with lower wages and motivated (and non-union) workforces.  Those states also have the highest obesity rates, but that doesn’t matter when major corporate decisions are made.  CEOs, voting with their own dollars, have determined that these higher obesity rates have no noticeable effect on productivity.

(3) Weight also has only a trivial effect on healthcare expenses.  Extra spending that was once attributed to weight turns out to be due to age, as people get naturally heavier over time and naturally tend to spend more on healthcare.  Those two variables correlate but the actual causality is attributable to other factors.  Among older people, some extra weight may be protective, as well.

So three things need to be true for these discriminatory programs (age discrimination and class discrimination) to justify their existence.  The programs need to get people to lose weight, and weight has to matter somehow, in productivity and/or health spending.  Instead, none of those things are true.  So why engage in an activity that isn’t going to work, that embarrasses your employees?

We’d encourage you to read the article or at least the abstract, and pass it along to decision-makers.  And send us your stories–how has corporate weight-shaming affected your job performance, or the performance of people you know?

PS  And if Aetna comes a-knockin’ with the industry’s most expensive and most dangerous anti-obesity “wellness” jihad, don’t answer the door.  Here’s what will happen if you do.

Quizzify Q in B and W

Good health is not about weight-shaming. It’s about education.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Bullies Shape-Up

In wellness, “bullying” is apparently defined as “asking hard questions, particularly to people who make claims they refuse to defend.”  This time it’s not us bullying anyone.  It’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette bullying Shape-Up, in a reprise of the last time Shape-Up challenged our numbers.

Guess who won, again?   (Hint:  you won’t see this link on Shape-Up’s website.)

And kudos to the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health for its forward-thinking quotes on the value of wellness programs.

Mrs. Brooks, whose business group members represent some of the region’s largest employers, said workplace wellness “has become a commoditized multibillion-dollar industry versus a value-based solution that addresses the whole.

Quizzify 3

What happens when Jeopardy collides with Comedy Central and healthcare?

“We need to figure out how to motivate employees. Many programs today aren’t strategic or focused and, more importantly, culturally integrated into how companies do business.”

Wellness Corporate Solutions Gives Us a Dose of Much-Needed Criticism

Oh, when bad things happen to good bloggers…

Shame on us!   Here’s what Wellness Corporate Solutions had to say about our observations of the wellness industry:

wcs--response to skeptics

And, in all fairness, when we went to the Wellness Corporate Solutions website, we felt quite chastened.  Their website was a breath of fresh air, taking the rest of the industry to task for expecting “instant cost savings,” noting that a “focus on ROI is short-sighted.”

wcs--roi philsophy

Further, they are totally opposed to wacky crash diets, of the type that 8-week weight loss “challenges” inspire, that cause abnormally large weight swings   As most people know by now, those may be harmful and are of course ineffective at long-term weight control.  The weight is likely to be regained and then some.  Plus contestants often binge before the initial weigh-ins to maximize contest weight loss.  That’s why Wellness Corporate Solutions quite appropriately says “stop dieting,” and “avoid making unreasonable weight loss goals.”  And “banish weight-obsessive thoughts.”

We were also thrilled to see that they “respect and appreciate size diversity” because “size prejudice hurts us all.”

wcs-celebrating fat

Finally, a company that has done enough research to realize that you can’t save money instantly by getting employees to crash-diet for 8 weeks! How exciting is that – we discovered a wellness vendor with access to Google!

Unfortunately, perhaps along the way someone at Corporate Wellness Solutions must have failed to “respect and appreciate the size diversity” of a certain Kim Jung Un, because the North Koreans appear to have hacked into their website and announced:  a program that saves money instantly by getting employees to crash-diet for 8 weeks.

wcs-weight loss challenge

Quizzify 4

How many of your employees know the difference between a deductible and a copayment?

Naturally, this being a wellness vendor, the savings are made up.  If 20% of your employees achieve a “healthy” BMI (a statement which by itself is open to a great deal of debate, since recent research overwhelmingly says it’s better to be fit and fat than to lose weight and not keep it off), for a company to reduce its total cost by 20% means that the costs for each employee who lost the weight would have to fall 100%.

And naturally, being a wellness vendor, they don’t stop there.  It’s part of wellness vendor DNA to ignore US Preventive Services Task Force recommendations, while saying they abide by them.   In this case, they are doing both thyroid screens (not recommended) and PSA tests (emphatically not recommended).


And, naturally, being a wellness vendor, there is no concept of learning.  They did exactly the same thing that ShapeUp, Ron “the Pretzel” Goetzel, Wellsteps and others have done, which is failing to realize that we bite back.  Actually, we don’t bite back as much as we allow these geniuses to bite themselves back.  The wellness ignorati invariably self-immolate in the attempt to criticize us.  Hence our mantra:  “In wellness you don’t need to challenge the data to invalidate it.  You merely need to read the data.  It will invalidate itself.”

However, there is some good news about Wellness Corporate Solutions: NASA employees don’t need to worry about their job security, because these people are not rocket scientists.


ShapeUp Falls Down Trying To Do Math For Highmark


“By uniting people based on common health interests and goals, and empowering them to spread the word by inviting their colleagues to join, the program created thousands of connections and enabled Highmark to build a grassroots communication strategy that reached the company’s entire employee population. This strategy, combined with the organic spread of peer-to-peer motivation, support and accountability, helps launch and sustain successful company-wide wellness challenges year after year.”

Materials Being Reviewed

ShapeUp’s Case Study of Highmark employees’ weight-loss program. Highmark is a 19,600-employee Blue Cross health plan headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA.

Summary of key figures and outcomes:

Shape up results report

Lose ten pounds in eight weeks


Questions for ShapeUp:

Out of Highmark’s 19,600 employees, are we right in calculating that only 163 (0.8% of the total, or 1.3% of participants) improved their BMI status?

ANS: Refused to answer

If about 9000 people (46% of 19,600) lost an average of 5.6 pounds, how come only 163 shifted to a lower weight category?   Statistically speaking, shouldn’t roughly 1800 people have crossed the threshold into a lower category if the average weight loss was 5.6 pounds?

ANS: Refused to answer

Do you have a sense of how many people, on average, would improve their BMI status over this same (undisclosed) period absent a formal workplace wellness program, through initiatives undertaken on their own?

ANS: Refused to answer

How come you didn’t reveal the number of employees whose BMI status deteriorated over that period?

ANS: Refused to answer

How many people dropped out of the program, due to disappointing results or other factors?

ANS: Refused to answer

The program was quite brief, and it’s generally accepted that short-term weight loss rarely translates into long-term weight maintenance. Were participants able to keep the weight off after the program ended, or was this largely short-term weight loss?

ANS: Refused to answer

If indeed you were to add back in non-participants, dropouts, people whose BMIs went up, and people who were unable to keep the weight off after the program ended, it is possible that the 0.8% success rate would actually be lower?

ANS: Refused to answer

You equate “improved health” with reduced weight and propose “losing 10 pounds in 8 weeks,” but couldn’t reduced weight in a short period be due to crash-dieting, which would not be healthy?

ANS: Refused to answer

Why would a program as “motivating” (using your own word) as ShapeUp’s need to be accompanied by Highmark’s $4200 fines for non-participation, believed to be the highest in the country?

ANS: Refused to answer

August 20–Score one for They Said What:  ShapeUp has taken down its boast about this 0.8% short-term improvement in weight classifications.  We hope that this is a step in the right direction and that they will seek validation from a legitimate validation source going forward.   We doubt it but look forward to being proven wrong.

 March 8–Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lets Highmark pile on, explaining why they fired ShapeUp.

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