Perverse Incentives for Health Fall Out of Favor

When perverse ideas about incentives for health fall apart, everyone can celebrate. Today we celebrate one that is losing support: penalizing employees for obesity.

For several years now, certain elements of the wellness industry have been pushing the idea that obesity could be reversed by imposing financial penalties on employees who don’t weight what their employers say they should weigh. These penalties take the form of higher charges for health insurance benefits. A number of employers bit on the idea and gave it a try.

Employees bit back, expressing outrage in a some cases where employers made it their business to start telling people how much they should weigh.

Now the Society for Human Resource Management sees employers stepping away from this noxious idea. Putting a price on someone’s weight is a stupid distraction that nobody needs. People are quite good at knowing how much they weigh. Having the boss prod you about it really doesn’t help.

Al Lewis, a veteran of disease management and health strategies, has long been a critic of these programs. He wrote in the American Journal of Managed Care:

No corporate weight control program has ever reported savings or even sustained weight loss using valid metrics across a sizable population for 2 years or more, accounting for dropouts and nonparticipants. Further, these programs can harm morale and even the health of the employees themselves.

Perhaps now the resources that went into employer-sponsored weight loss scams can go into programs that actually benefit the health of employees.

Click here for more from the Wall Street Journal, here for more from Fortune, and here for more from Al Lewis.

Incentives, image © / flickr

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July 3, 2016