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Announcing the Wellness Industry 2016 Deplorables Awards

For this year’s Deplorables Awards, I think we’re gonna need a bigger basket. As a result, this will be a two-part series.

Why? Because we need to accommodate all the bad hombres and nasty women who have subverted the perfect elegant philosophy of wellness into nothing more than a profit machine, with no regard for integrity, customers, or employees.

Yes, 2016 was a year in which a record number self-anointed industry leaders gave lying and cheating a bad name.  In that sense it was no different from any other year, though 2016 offered even more good news and bad news:

  • The bad news: not content with merely lying and cheating, this cabal branched out into harming employees, fat-shaming, and pure misanthropy;
  • The good news: wellness did succeed in one way, as a “natural experiment” showing what happens in healthcare if being a provider requires no credentials beyond a GED, a driver’s license, and a pulse.

Indeed, whatever mathematician first postulated that everyone can’t be worse than average had apparently never experienced the wellness industry. (Exceptions of course, being the few that, like Quizzify, are validated by the Validation Institute or have accepted the Employee Health Program Code of Conduct.)


#10 Optum and Wellsteps (Runners-Up);  Healthmine (winner)

What do you do when you need to defend your blatant disregard of the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines?  Simple — you blame your customers. Optum’s Seth Serxner said: “Customers make us” do this. Optum’s PR hack said I was making Optum “look bad.”

I said: “Sure, I’ll apologize. Just name one account that will admit to insisting on paying a higher price than you wanted to charge, in order to screen the stuffing out of their employees.” Never heard from them again.

Wellsteps got caught by ace reporter Sharon Begley of STATNews, and their CEO was forced to admit Wellsteps was violating USPSTF guidelines.

Healthmine trumps them both, though. They wrote an entire anti-USPSTF rant based on such elementary misconconceptions about the benefits and costs of screening that I’ll be using this as a teaching tool in my course on Critical Outcomes Report Analysis. Not the advanced class. Not even the standard class.

More like the remedial one, where, unlike Healthmine, all you have to do is spell “US Preventive Services Task Force” correctly.


#9 The Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax gives misanthropy a bad name. (Honorable mentions to Vitality and Ron Goetzel.)

Misanthropy, greed, and weight-shaming provided the wellness industry with its key “talking points” in 2016. And nothing combined the three like the Johnson & Johnson Fat Tax fiasco. The point of the (apparently stillborn) Fat Tax was to stigmatize overweight employees, by “pressuring” (their word) companies into disclosing to shareholders how many fat employees they had.  That in turn would somehow pressure these employers into spending more money on wellness vendors.

It’s not altogether clear what that disclosure would do for the actual overweight/obese employees, but somehow this disclosure was supposed to allegedly benefit shareholders. Indeed, the Fat Tax cabal is right about that in one respect: this disclosure would benefit shareholders — it would indicate to shareholders that they ought to unload their shares in a hurry, because management just disclosed it is stupid.

Vitality was a co-conspirator in hatching this scheme, which is ironic because they admitted they couldn’t even get their own employees to lose weight.  And where you hear the word “stupid,” can the name “Goetzel” be far behind?  This whole thing was his idea, based on the notion that “playing doctor” with employees makes stock prices increase. However, his claim that companies with Koop Award-winning wellness programs outperformed the market can easily be invalidated by anyone with a calculator and a triple-digit IQ.


#8  IBISWorld: How is wellness different from King Midas and Gold?

Here are links to the postings on the most hilarious report we’ve ever read about the wellness industry:

  1. New wellness industry report costs $5400 (but that includes shipping)
  2. New report raises the bar for cluelessness in wellness
  3. How is wellness different from King Midas and gold?

The answer to the question in the header? Everyone who touches wellness turns to stupid.  Not just garden-variety stupid. More like fifty shades of stupid.

Mind you, most wellness industry leaders don’t need to touch anything first before reaching that endpoint, but occasionally a company like IBIS, with no prior experience in wellness, ventures into this field — and that’s where the fun starts. These IBISWorld Young Turks (literally–the writer is named “Turk”) are so excited about this industry, they practically speak in tongues:

Wellness firms may offer employers stress management courses and sessions that offer music therapy, aromatherapy, Tai Chi, and post disaster stress reduction through coaching.

Government-funded initiatives that promote wellness to cut costs related to chronic ailments (e.g., obesity and diabetes) has further exacerbated many businesses movement toward purchasing corporate wellness services.

And my own personal favorite:

The industry provides wellness programs to businesses across the United States, including small, medium and large businesses in the private sector and businesses in the public sector.  

“Businesses in the public sector”? I knew that many of our legislators are for sale but I didn’t realize they had incorporated.


#7 Healthfairs USA Raises the Bar for Misbehavior

Healthfairs USA doubled down in 2016 on lying and cheating with an elegant new strategy: insurance fraud. They not only harm employees, but bill insurance companies directly for the privilege of paying for those harms. They offer cancer tests that are “99% accurate” (hence their multiple Nobel Prizes), and over-the-counter nutritional supplements…all of which are covered by most insurance companies because they get a doctor to sign a claim form.

Disclosure: we aren’t entirely sure that billing insurance companies for USPSTF D-rated screens and worthless, possibly harmful, pills constitutes insurance fraud. Our opinion is probably no more accurate than their cancer tests.


#6 Aetna’s DNA wellness program combines junk science, junk math, and junk integrity 

In 2014, Aetna decided to “play doctor” with obese members of self-insured customers by telemarketing their employees to pitch very controversial high-priced drugs whose sales are “flailing” because almost no patients seem to want to take them.  Among other things, Aetna said these drugs increase productivity even though right on the label, the drugs warn that they could reduce productivity (attention span and language facility).

Not content with the warm welcome that scheme brought them, in 2015 they introduced a DNA-based wellness program and claimed a whopping $1464/participant in savings. What put the whop in that whopper were these two tidbits. These savings were achieved:

  • in the first year alone;
  • on participants who were not actually sick to begin with. (You couldn’t qualify for this study if you were already sick.)

The reason Aetna needed to fabricate such a high savings figure is that the wellness field requires ROIs greater than 2-to-1, and this DNA test sells for $500/employee. So you need to show savings between $1000 and $1500.

Also, in 2015, we were able to show the program was completely ineffective, a convincing enough demonstration that one of the board members of the journal that published the study with the $1464 claim publicly apologized.

What do you do when it turns out your science is all wrong (news flash: being told you have a gene for obesity doesn’t motivate you to lose weight) and your math is all wrong?  Of course, you apologize and retract the study, and offer to return the money to the lucky few companies that signed up for your program.

Haha, good one, Al. Obviously, like all the other Deplorable Award-winners on this list, you sell your snake oil harder than ever, and that’s what gets them on the 2016 list. Whereas in 2015, they could use the dumb-and-dumber defense, this year they know the numbers don’t add up and yet they are still flogging it.


Don’t miss the slam-bang conclusion as we count down to #1. Will Ron Goetzel retain his crown, or will he be unseated as the wellness industry’s #1 Deplorable?

Yes, we realize he has already appeared on this list at #9, but many lists feature the same entities making multiple entries. For instance, the Beatles once held positions #1 through #5 in Billboard’s Top 40, so it can be done.

Not that I want to put any ideas in his head.

In workplace wellness, fat-shaming is the new black.

This posting is a request to self-anointed wellness industry leaders to pleeease stop picking on people because of their weight.  It’s like you’re still in kindergarten, no offense intended.*


2016 was the year in which weight-shaming, weight discrimination and a generally dismissive and outright misanthropic attitude towards two-thirds of the country’s employees became a wellness industry thing.  This started in January at Davos, where the head of a wellness vendor named Vitality announced what quickly became known as the Fat Tax.

Here’s how the Fat Tax would work.  Companies would tell shareholders how many fat people they employed. Employers, presumably feeling shame over this disclosure, would be motivated to pay a “tax,” in the form of a fee to a wellness vendor — such as, coincidentally, Vitality — for screening and weight loss programs.

In addition to the out-of-pocket fee, employers would pull employees off the job for an hour too, to obtain this screening. In addition, there would be all the administrative time — making the rules and exceptions, catching cheaters (see below), getting the auditors involved, and so on.

All this for what, again?

J&J would have people believe that shareholders are demanding thinner employees. In reality, of course, shareholders could care less about the weight of employees, for the simple reason while weight makes no difference to most businesses (as we’ve proven), the cost impact described above of mass weigh-ins and disclosures would be quite high.

More important is the morale impact. Suppose an employee owns shares and the stock price is down. Next, suppose that shareholders have just been informed how many employees are overweight…and the guy in the next cubicle is obese. Suddenly, that employee can start blaming his co-worker for the loss in value of his 401K.

Your stock price is down, you need to rally the troops. Instead, the troops are turning on one another.

Incredibly, this idea did originally have momentum: along with a few drug companies that make obesity drugs that saw a potential market opportunity in the Fat Tax, IBM and even Pepsico were willing to put their names on it.  The Fat Tax cabal also knows the value of the Harvard name: they paid a little-known instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), so that they could co-opt that moniker, just like the sugar industry used to do.  Only the latter had a big enough budget to bribe two full professors rather than one lowly instructor.

However, the momentum quickly died once word leaked out that the very same Vitality that wants to collect money from others to administer weight loss programs couldn’t even get their own employees to lose weight.

Oh, and if you guessed that Ron Goetzel’s fingerprints were all over this one — just like almost every other debacle since Penn State — you obviously know the way the wellness industry works.

Ah well, as management guru Peter Drucker said, the only thing worse than a poorly conceived idea is a poorly conceived idea that is poorly executed.

Actually he never said that, likely because he was never enrolled in Vitality’s program.


Possibly because of the initial exposure the Fat Tax idea got, hazardous crash-dieting competitions came back into vogue this year.  Crash-dieting competitions are the type of thing that gives idiocy a bad name. Let’s leave aside the fact that employees cheat, as this article shows. They don heavy clothes, fill their pockets and down bottles of water before the initial weigh in, and do the opposite before the final one.

And leave aside the fact that vendors can’t read scales. How hard is it to figure out that it is not possible for the majority of your crash-dieting teams to lose exactly 16.59% of their body weight? The odds of winning the lottery are about 1000 times better.

But the biggest problem is that corporate crash-dieting contests are much more likely to harm employees than benefit them.  Money is on the line for successfully bingeing before the first weigh-in and starving oneself before the last.  Companies are paying their employees to yo-yo diet. Jon Robison has recommended, and I agree, that crash-dieting contests (and other corporate weight-loss programs) should carry a label warning of potential harms.

These harms are fairly self-evident, but just to be on the safe side, Rebecca Johnson laid out the health hazards quite thoroughly in Corporate Wellness, in case anyone needs a refresher course, which apparently Omada does.

Yes, despite the perverse incentives and physical hazards of paying people to lose weight, Omada Health is proposing that health plans do just that. According to Omada, a health plan can save “billions of dollars” — that’s “billions” with a “b”, not “millions” with an “m” or “stupid” with an “s” — by trying to prevent diabetes, including paying members to lose weight. A health plan that offered members this pay-to-diet option would soon find itself deluged with enough takers to require a rate increase for everyone else.

In case anyone is wondering about Omada’s math, the median-sized health plan can’t save billions of dollars by getting people to lose weight because the median-sized health plan doesn’t even spend “billions of dollars.” And I don’t mean on diabetics, I mean in total.


Next, it appears that this year’s presidential campaign has made fat-shaming great again.  One of the first vendors to jump on that bandwagon was Wellsteps, with the immortal words: “It’s fun to get fat. It’s fun to be lazy.” Eventually they took those words down, if only because a number of comments embarrassed them into it.

However, as Maya Angelou said, if someone shows you who they really are, believe them.


Finally, with his editorial in the American Journal of Health Promotion, Michael O’Donnell has out-stupided Vitality, Omada and Wellsteps: He is calling for employers to make employees pay for their health insurance per pound, sort of like buying lobster or sending packages. People say we make fun of the ideas the Wellness Ignorati come up with, but really all we do is repeat them — and occasionally illustrate them so that even the dumbest wellness industry leader can follow along:

lobsterpackagesurviving cover with no promotionajhp

 


So what is the “answer”?  Clearly calories in-calories out influences weight gain and loss. But it’s nowhere near as simple as that. Neuroscientists are discovering and researching all manner of poorly understood biochemical pathways, possibly influenced by environmental factors, that govern or at least influence what and how much different people eat, and what and how much weight different people gain or lose by doing so.
While these researchers don’t know what works, they certainly know what doesn’t work, which is to say any wellness industry scheme involving money. As Vitality, Wellsteps, and McKesson have shown, there is even some likelihood that these schemes will actually fatten employees, though in terms of fattening things, the greatest likelihood of all is that these schemes will fatten the vendors’ bottom lines.

*No offense intended to kindergarteners, that is, most of whom have better manners than this.

Dog Bites Man: Yet Another HR Publication Slams Wellness…in a Cover Story

It simply isn’t news any more when a publication aimed at the human resources market publishes an article slamming wellness.  It just means a reporter (Bruce Shutan in this case) is actually reporting the facts, rather than assuming a “false equivalence” between wellness critics and wellness apologists. While reporters “take sides” frequently these days in wellness, it’s a rarity when writing on other topics. Normally, reporters use “he said-she said” because a good rule of thumb is that most but not all debates do indeed have two sides. The exceptions to that rule are wellness,* evolution, and Trump University.

Below are the article’s highlights.


Our $1-million reward has gone unclaimed.

Obviously, if the Wellness Ignorati–and we are reviving that phrase by popular demand (for the uninitiated, it means wellness apologists who knowingly ignore facts in order to snooker) — really thought that “pry, poke and prod” programs work, they would have claimed it by now.


Wellness vendors deliberately flout guidelines to make more money

If they were to adhere to US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, they would be screening appropriately–but make much less money. Optum’s Seth Serxner stood up on camera to blame employers for making Optum flout the guidelines, while HealthMine takes great pride in their ignorance of them. Either way, employees and employers lose.


Ron Goetzel is still flogging weight loss as the answer to an employer’s health cost problems

We aren’t listing everything wrong with Mr. Goetzel’s position, in order to leave space on the internet for other things, such as Google and Amazon.

In a nutshell, according to:

…employee weight loss programs don’t work.

He is also still calling McKesson a best practice in wellness, even though their employees gained weight (as noted below), their glucose increased (ditto) and their analytics consultant speaks in tongues.

mckesson bmi and glucose

Additionally, according to his own company’s data compiled for the federal government, even if these crash-dieting contests did work, they would have a trivial effect on health spending, which is mostly unrelated to an employee’s weight in any event. Ron has also backed off his 3-to-1 ROI claims and is now down to 1-to-1 as a goal.


HERO is caught telling the truth

HERO (the Health Enhancement Research Organization — truly the belly of the wellness beast, led by Paul Terry, Ron Goetzel and Seth Serxner) said wellness loses money.  Being the one instance in which a wellness organization has told the truth, naturally they tried to walk it back.  First, they said, with a straight face, they fabricated their data.  They said we should substitute real data for this admittedly fabricated data.  We did–and the losses skyrocketed. Then they circulated a “poison pen” letter to the media in which they blamed me for reading their report carefully.

In any event, their argument was undone when the state of Connecticut admitted they lost more than a dollar for every dollar they spent on the program.


And make sure to read to the end–Quizzify is presented as part of the solution.

A bit of a “correction” is in order here, because the article is slightly inaccurate. Please see the Quizzify landing page for the very specific language vis-a-vis Quizzify and Harvard Medical School.  Harvard Medical School doesn’t “partner” with vendors. We are the only population health company that is even allowed to use their shield at all.



*Maybe I can’t judge wellness fairly. The Wellness Ignorati would accuse me of bias due to my heritage–my parents were smart.

 

 

 

Another Expert Slams Fat-Shaming Corporate Weight-Loss “Challenges”

While vendors like HealthyWage are pushing company weight challenges onto unsuspecting and poorly advised wellness directors — and wellness promoters at the University of Pennsylvania are subjecting their own employees to weight-loss experiments to encourage corporations to do more of them — real researchers are urging a halt to these activities.  They do more harm than good.

We, of course, have been calling out fat-shaming for months on this site–with specific attention to companies like Johnson&Johnson, ShapeUp, and Vitality Group, all companies that want to profit from fat-shaming in various ways.  In particular, we wrote a very well-received Huffpost on this topic three months back.

And a year ago, we called for an end to these fat-shaming programs, showing that they made no impact on health expenses, productivity or profitability.

However, we did not explore this topic remotely as well as Pat Barone, in today’s LifeZette. (While LifeZette is Laura Ingraham’s publication, Pat Barone lives in the People’s Republic of Madison, so the politics cancels itself out.)  We urge everyone take a looksee here…and then when you’re ready to sue your wellness vendor and need an expert witness, who you gonna call?

We invariably get fast settlements.  No vendor wants to face me in court, where even wellness vendors are required to tell the truth.  Facts, as we often say, are the wellness industry’s worst nightmare.

NY Times Economists Diss Corporate Weight-Shaming…but It’s Even Worse than They Say

We never post on Sundays.  We are making an exception today on the theory that a lot of people in the Northeast are at home and would welcome the distraction. Here in Massachusetts it’s so cold that the Governor is urging people to stay indoors.  Heck, we even decided to cancel Ultimate Frisbee.


This is now the seventh time that the New York Times —or its The Incidental Economist bloggers (“TIE” as they call themselves) — has observed that conventional corporate wellness doesn’t work.  Links to the previous six instances follow this posting. Perhaps the seventh time will be the charm. Having covered every other angle except the actual health hazards of wellness, this TIE post specifically eviscerates “biggest loser” programs and their brethren.

HR executives may think they are “supporting” employees by holding weight-loss contests or paying them to lose weight.  Unfortunately, all they are doing is reducing self-esteem, encouraging crash-dieting before weigh-ins, drawing attention to people’s weight, and — in addition to distracting employees from their actual jobs — distracting them from the one thing that benefits people of all sizes: exercise.  It is much better to be “fit and fat” than fight a losing battle to keep weight off with various fad diets.

Further, the Body Mass Index, the 200-year-old metric wellness vendors still use to establish how much to pay or fine employees, turns out to be a very misleading measure of population health. (As “Brad F.’s” comment to a previous blog pointed out, BMIs may be of value if conducted as part of an actual physician-patient relationship. However, actual medicine is of no interest to wellness vendors, other than making people get useless annual checkups. Most physicians practicing actual medicine find wellness programs to be a misguided nuisance.)

Worse than The Incidental Economist says it is

The case against these programs is even stronger than TIE says. TIE supports its case by citing randomized control trials.  But if RCTs are the Gold Standard, the Platinum Standard is wellness vendors’ consistent and total self-immolation in attempting to show their own program impact– despite ample opportunity to manipulate data, select motivated participants, ignore dropouts, and run ridiculously short “weight loss challenges” that end before the weight is regained. We love to cite ShapeUp as an example of that, having exposed them in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  (This was probably overkill on our part, but their CEO had thought a good way to get some attention might be to fallaciously attack our numbers even though his own figures were made up.)

Because great minds apparently aren’t the only ones that think alike, ShapeUp has plenty of company on the Biggest Loser List. Wellness Corporate Solutions has also been “profiled” on this site, largely for comic relief. Pfizer, where actively motivated employees lost a few ounces over a year, actually earned an award from Ron Goetezel for this stellar performance, as well as a spot on our Biggest Loser List.  Our favorite example is McKesson. They also won one of Ron Goetzel’s Koop awards even though their average employee showed an actual increase in — you guessed it — BMI (and cholesterol):

mckesson bmi increase

If award-winning companies can’t get employees to lose weight, who can?

And where would a Biggest Loser List be without Vitality, which pitches its weight-loss program to others but can’t even get its own employees to lose weight?  If wellness companies can’t get their own employees to lose weight, who can?

Where we differ with TIE is on weight control interventions for school-age kids.  They quote one definitive-sounding study, with 4600 kids in it. We don’t have a problem with the actual study. However, because the long-term health and social prognosis for obese children is negative, and because this problem is so pervasive, we ourselves would insist on a much higher level of proof and more experimentation with different program designs before throwing in the towel on these interventions.  (We may very well end up agreeing with TIE when all is said and done. We would just like more to be said and especially done.)

As for employers, our recommendation remains the same: do wellness for your employees, not to them. This means supporting employees who want to pursue health goals, but otherwise just leaving them alone to do their jobs. Don’t even make them play Quizzify if they don’t want to. (But they’ll want to — we guarantee it.)


The Incidental Economist/New York Times on Wellness: A Chronology

September 2014  TIE says wellness “usually” doesn’t work.

October 2014: TIE headlines: “Wellness Programs Don’t Seem to Work as Advertised”

December 2014  TIE says: “We’ve said it before, many times and in many ways, wellness doesn’t save money.”

February 2015  TIE headlines “Another Call to Eliminate Employee Weight Loss Programs”

October 2015   New York Times says: “Provide us with your...weight, or pay up.”

November 2015: TIE headlines “The Feds Are Wrong. Lots of Wellness Programs Violate the ADA.”

 

Johnson & Johnson Proposes a “Fat Tax” on Businesses

This J&J/Goetzel/Vitality proposal is a Fat Tax, pure and simple.  If they are right about shareholders caring how many overweight people a company employs (and they aren’t), it is a tax on overweight employees, each one costing the company a slight amount of its market value.  If they are wrong, this represents a pure transfer of wealth from corporate America and their employees to companies like Johnson & Johnson and Vitality.

Read the full posting here.   Comment and share it.


 

 

By the way, these wellness people don’t understand math any more than they understand wellness.  One of their premises for the Fat Tax is that over 14 years, companies with wellness programs outperformed the market. Besides failing to use sector indexes as benchmarks, they don’t understand the way compounding works. Suppose the average market performance is set to 0%. If all your stocks perform at a market level, your return will be 0%. However, if half of them increase 10% a year and the other half decrease 10% a year, you’ll be way ahead of the averages because each year the 10% increases are applied to an increasingly larger figure, and the 10% decreases are applied to an increasing smaller figure.  And if you look at their portfolio, it’s disproportionately weighted to the healthcare sector, which boomed over the period, and the financial services sector, which dramatically contracted.  Towards the end of the period, the performance of Citigroup etc. didn’t matter any more.

This is true even if you set the market performance to a figure other than 0%.  It’s just clearer this way.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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