CVS Draws Fire for Demanding Employee Weight

One of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains has drawn criticism for collecting employee weight and body fat data through a company that runs their wellness plans. Employees that don’t turn over the information face a $600 annual penalty. Adding insult to injury, employees are required to sign a release saying that their participation is voluntary.

“How is it voluntary if you are a low- or medium-wage person?” asks Deborah Peel, a doctor and founder of the nonprofit organization, Patient Privacy Rights. “This is an incredibly coercive and invasive thing to ask employees to do. Now, we’re all in this terrible situation where employers are desperate to get rid of workers who have costly health conditions, like obesity and diabetes.”

CVS spokesman Michael D’Angelis defended the policy, saying, “Our benefits program is evolving to help our colleagues take more responsibility for improving their health and managing health-associated costs. All personal health data is kept private by our wellness program’s third party administrator and is never shared with CVS Caremark,”

All this hubbub demonstrates how sensitive the issue of weight can be. Though weight bias and discrimination are common, awareness of this injustice is growing. When it comes to employment, discrimination based on body weight is not okay.

Low-wage employees might have reason to doubt that their employers are genuinely concerned about their wellness. For all the talk about having people take responsibility for their own wellness, employers have been slow to cover the treatment of obesity. Among people severely affected who need bariatric surgery, many give up on persuading their employer to cover the cost and pay out of pocket, sometimes going into debt for this procedure that can be life-saving. And those who need medical treatment find that obesity drugs are rarely covered.

So what’s a concerned employer to do? A good place to start is with the evidence about what works to improve health in wellness programs. As this episode shows, penalties don’t work so well because they inspire resistance without promoting lasting behavioral change.  The Obesity Action Coalition has published an excellent summary on what does work that you can access here.

Click here to read more in the Boston Herald and here to read more in the LA Times.

Feet on Scale, image by  Bill Branson / Wikipedia

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