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Companies are justified in fining obese employees as health liabilities

The obesity epidemic has captured the public mindset for decades, as this nation watched our national percentage of obese adults expand from 13 percent to the current 35 percent. First Lady Michelle Obama has declared childhood obesity the national issue that she has decided to tackle, the expected longevity of our current generation is five years less than that of our predecessors, and the rate of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and numerous other obesity-related diseases are all on the rise.

To call this a problem is somewhat understating the issue. In the last decade, we have seen countless government programs and actions rising to curtail the issue plaguing the country, but now more and more private enterprises are starting to take the matter into their own hands. Numerous companies, such as Michelin and CVS, are enacting financial penalties for their employees if they fail to meet specific physical and health-related criteria.

The corporate revamping of health incentive programs is related to the rise of health costs and the failure of voluntary wellness programs, and in facing these difficulties companies have decided to threaten their employees with financial loss. Their leaders cite behavioral economists as saying that people respond more effectively to potential loss than reward systems. The loss that these companies are suggesting are implementations such as the $600 fine CVS employees must pay if they fail to report their weight, body fat and cholesterol levels to the company, or the $1,000 additional fees Michelin employees could pay if they have waistlines more than 40 inches for males and 35 inches for females. These companies originally held voluntary and non-binding action plans that would reward their employees additional credit toward deductibles, but giving power to the people was not a triumphant success.

Employee-rights activists claim that these actions are discriminatory and that people are recieving pay cuts “for no reason,” as the president of the National Workrights Institute, Lewis Maltby, stated. But this view is detrimental in that it coddles workers and penalizes companies for working in a way that will both save lives and profits. Employees hold responsibilities in business in that they are there to make a profit for the company, and posing health risks make them liabilities. It is illegal for these companies to discriminate based on underlying conditions such as congenital issues, but obesity is another issue entirely.

The national debate about obesity will open again because of these actions, and one can only hope that our gaze turns away from coddling a serious affliction because of some contrived idea of self-love. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventive death in America and, given current trends, will slowly become worse. If you love yourself, why wouldn’t you care for your body?

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 9 print edition. Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a staff columnist. Email him at [email protected]

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14 Responses to “Companies are justified in fining obese employees as health liabilities”

  1. MorDowney on April 9th, 2013 5:49 pm

    This is one of the most stupid comments on obesity I have seen in 17 years in the field. Parental, especially maternal, obesity is the strongest predictor of childhood obesity. The genetic and environmental components of obesity are beyond dispute and dwarf behavioral factors. Companies, especially those who provide health insurance, have been shown to impose a wage penalty on obese employees, i.e. pay them less than peers doing the same work. This wage penalty falls especially on white, overweight women. Piling on punishments, especially when effective treatments are so wanting, is nothing but meanness. Morgan Downey, see http://www.downeyobesityreport.com

  2. Reda on April 10th, 2013 10:26 pm

    Granted, I don’t imagine much people take kindly to calling their work being called “the most stupid”, but I will admit with my limits I wasn’t able to put much more room for qualification for a more balanced evaluation of the issue. I am actually very aware of the genetically predisposed conditions that dominate obesity, but I don’t feel comfortable casting it off as overwhelmingly dominant to behavioral indicators. It’s very Lamarckian, in my opinion, which is why I personally don’t put as much stock into it. But, after viewing your site, I see there is a wealth of research that I am not up to date on but my insight on this comes from the historical data of obesity increasing in correlation to the commercialization of homogenized food sources and the monopoly of agribusiness corporations that intentionally obscure nutritional information. Also, the advent of sedentary lifestyles. Don’t think I don’t see your point, I do and you are more versed in this, but I certainly don’t take to being called stupid without being able to defend my viewpoint. I strongly feel a disciplined and healthy lifestyle, while not completely off-setting being overweight, can allow one to combat these genetic factors. I personally have found that to be the case with myself, growing up obese. And the only reason I am willing to side with these corporate plans is because they, according to the articles in the Chicago Sun Tribune and the WSJ, also take into consideration heart rate and cholesterol levels and other health qualifications, not just BMI (which is highly flawed measurement) and waistline. Someone with a 40 inch waist could have good health, too. (Albeit, this is theoretical. I haven’t really seen this). So, if you’re open to a dialogue on this, I am more than happy to learn and discuss because this is an issue I am rather passionate about and I can only do so much with a 450 word limit without coming off one-sided. I’m actually surprised you found this.

  3. MorDowney on April 11th, 2013 8:47 pm

    Maybe you should do you research before you express you pro-corporate, anti-individual diversity opinions in the first place. No regrets.

  4. Jackson S. on April 12th, 2013 1:29 pm

    You have to be one “of the most stupid” commentators I have seen on any NYU news column. Here is a student that took time out of their extremely busy schedule at a top university to pose a debate topic on something that he feels is important to him, but instead of respectfully disagreeing with his view you resort to blatant attack. His article is hardly work of bias as almost all of the article is summary and explaining of the topic to the audience. He is a student AT NYU, how in the world do you make the dramatic leap to “pro-corporate, anti-individual diversity” off of the minor mention that the programs have potential but are unproven?!? But my favorite is when he invites you to present your side more fully and have a debate with him, open for everyone to view, and instead you post something so ridiculous as “no regrets”. While the world may improve with the problem of obesity being solved in our nation, I know for sure the world would be a better place without people like you MorDowney.

  5. MorDowney on April 12th, 2013 5:19 pm

    No problem. My website has, since 2009, reported, with links to thousands of published, peer-reviewed articles, the studies on obesity from causes to genetics to behavior to policy solutions (or non-solutions). Virtually everyone who has looked at this issue has concluded that obesity is a complex, multi-factorial, global phenomenon for which we have only partial explanations. So, when a publication comes along and pops off that certain human beings should be penalized for their body status, without doing their homework, well , excuse me, I just get a little frustrated. Do you think this commentator is the only person is “extremely busy?” Why, then, did he take time out of his “busy schedule” to propose harming persons who are overweight? Does he know they are already under-employed and under-paid? Stigmatized and shunned? Maybe it’s just me but being busy does not justify adding to the burden of human suffering.

  6. MorDowney on April 12th, 2013 6:00 pm

    Oh, I forgot to add that Mr. Reda-Castado has decided to dump on the field on epigenetics. Far be it for me to defend this area of investigation. There are a number of investigators at NYU involved in this area. One, who is very prominent, is Dr. Danny Reinberg at the NYU School of Medicine. Maybe you should contact him (never mind, I’ll send him the link). Maybe NYU should give back to NIH and other funders the monies they receive for epigenetic research because they are “very Lamarckian” to Mr. Reda-Castado? Time to put the Philosophy Department in charge of grant applications, no?

  7. MorDowney on April 12th, 2013 6:14 pm

    Jackson, S, I take your comment, ” I know for sure the world would be a better place without people like you MorDowney.” Shall I take this as a physical threat? Please identify yourself to avoid further problems.

  8. Jackson S. on April 12th, 2013 9:51 pm

    Physical threat?? No. Really man, how do you make these insane jumps. First you see this writer mention that some corporate policy aimed at improving health in employees MAY help and make the leap to “pro-corporate and anti-individual diversity”. I mean come on, anti-diversity AT NYU, how would he survive? And now a comment that jerks like you make the world worse and suddenly I am some sort of Batman vigilante that hunts down online commentators to beat them up. Also maybe you didn’t notice but we are in the OPINION section, god forbid someone take an opinion on obesity that opposes you.

  9. Bruce W. on April 13th, 2013 1:45 am

    Mr. Jackson it is your lucky day, I have decided to critique you just as I did Mr. Downey. All in all you did an okay, job. But it was only after you managed to work a batman reference into your argument that I really decided to believe in you. Good job, much respect.

  10. Bruce W. on April 13th, 2013 1:44 am

    Mr. Downey it is your lucky day. I have decided to take this opportunity to critique your arguments, God knows you need some helpful insight on rhetoric. First off, you argue like a politician. And that isn’t a good thing. Mudslinging, its what politicians do to avoid discussing the actual issue at hand, you did that a lot in your first reply to Mr. Reda-Castelao. Case in point, your first line,”This is one of the most stupid comments.” Who hurt you as a child, to make you so hostile towards differing opinions? But really, in all seriousness, if you want to persuade someone, don’t just insult them right off the bat. You also then went on to assume that Mr. Reda-Castelao’s political beliefs. Don’t do that. I am sure your mother taught you not to assume, because it makes an ass out of you and me? Yup, mine did too. Now moving on to your responses to Mr. Jackson. I don’t recall him ever thanking you for anything, so don’t reply back with a “No problem.” It makes you sound ignorant. And for the love of Baby Jesus, please take the time to learn how to properly spell the names of your rhetorical adversaries. It is spelled Reda-Castelao, not Reda-Castado. You sounded somewhat intelligent up to that point, then I lost all hope in you. The whole thing about Mr. Jackson possibly threatening you… I was like “What?” Where did that come from? It is important to appear at least somewhat sane when composing a rhetorical argument. And that part about “identify yourself,” I was just laughing at you. Are you a robot? All in all though I think you should just be a little bit nicer man, its okay that someone has a different opinion than you. The world will keep on spinning. I promise.

  11. Harrison Ford on April 13th, 2013 4:50 pm

    This is clearly an opinionated article & to come in and just crudely criticize a young mans first approach to the topic is very classy on your part. I’m not sure where your professionalism comes from but calling someones article the “stupidest thing you’ve ever read in 17 years” is in my eyes very unprofessional and very low on your part. Especially the age difference you two obtain makes this oh so much better. It’s called constructive criticism jackass. Don’t tear the kid down. Help him to improve to make it better. He makes very valid points; Sorry that they don’t meet up to your ridiculous standards. Just remember, the best reporters now started from the bottom too. Reevaluate your life.

  12. Reda on April 13th, 2013 9:24 pm

    That’s wonderful that you have this site, really is. And I even went ahead and read a good amount of the links on this website, because for someone who writes ‘stupid’ articles I somehow show humility and composition in receiving criticism. I originally thought that yours was constructive, but unfortunately for both of us I was misguided in believing that a highly influential expert in this field, we’ll say that for now, and an adult would go out of their way to attack and be anti-intellectual. Mark me not mistaken, though, because I can understand where you’re coming from: you think you are a judicious and virtuous defender of the disenfranchised and downtrodden, like a Civil Rights Leader (actually, don’t ever compare Obesity to Civil rights. Because they are not the same as all.) and so anyone who expresses an ounce of cynicism or opposition is some sort of oppressor who must automatically lay opposite of you on the spectrum of justice. This is a fallacy, just like saying everyone who has ever looked at this issue thinks it’s overly complicated. There are numerous fallacies you fall into. But maybe the worst one is the personal assault, the ad hominem. I suffered from obesity for most of my life and I worked excessively to take care of my body and taught myself discipline and proper eating habits. My life is not others, but what I cannot stand is when you tell me I am promoting human suffering because I think obese individuals should be made to take better care of their bodies. Your attempts at arguments are shallow, fallacious, and plain offensive and you should stop arguing and harassing me on a college student-run newspaper. And I did my homework, on obesity and on you. Or at least I would have if anyone could trust your shifty Wikipedia page. Also! Spell my name right! How disrespectful of you, and it’s all over the page. I bothered to do things for you, an intruder, so you could only be so courteous as to do these things for me, like actually reading what I say.

  13. Patrick M. on April 16th, 2013 12:32 am

    You MorDowney, make it hard to find the sliver lining in life. Tearing down a young man’s opinion. Please for everyone else trying to enjoy a well written paper about how obese people might need a little extra motivation to slim down. My mother always said if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it at all. I hope your parents taught you some manners.

  14. Bob Johnson on April 12th, 2013 8:15 am

    The issue of obesity in America is making it necessary to implement wellness programs, charge the obese more in health insurance charges, or pay them less in salary. This has become a money-issue, not a moral issue. The obese have 25% more annual healthcare costs than those that are not obese. While some may consider this unfair, it has not been fair that those of us that exercise routinely and eat healthy diets have paid the same amount for years, as those that do not.

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Companies are justified in fining obese employees as health liabilities