Downsize What?

Opinion: Ziff Davis Internet's Jeff Angus asks: When it comes to intrusive policies, why can employers insist staff be mean, but not lean? (

If Global Warming, the H5N1 Virus, killer hurricanes, the possibility of Joe Liebermans running for president in 2008, and the never-ending quagmire in the Middle East dont have you scared to the point of considering being a guest on the Jerry Springer show, how about this recent revelation from a press release:

"Overweight employees could be costing you millions, if not billions, of dollars."

Darn. And I thought they fired those two network engineers in the last reorg.

The press release raising this super-size specter was circulated to a largely inattentive media in support of a new book, "Move It. Lose It. Live Healthy: Achieve a Healthier Workplace One Employee at a Time!" by Dr. Thomas Gilliam and Jane Neill, RN.

The pair mastermind organizational wellness programs, and are using the book to broadcast concerns about the health of corporate employees and their proposals to improve it.

But the authors and I share a question about the appropriateness of an employer taking point on the weighty issue of obesity. As Gilliam is quoted in the release:

"Encouraging weight loss is a touchy issue," Gilliam says. "Leaders think, Well, its a personal matter and how much someone weighs is his or her own business. The whole subject makes leaders uncomfortable. But the truth is, if you pay health insurance for your employees, obesity is your business. It directly relates to your economic health, which affects all of your employees in a very tangible way."

Without knocking their position as unreasonable—its viable if you consider only the insurance costs of overweight employees— Im on the other side in most cases.

Lets get a little law out of the way before getting into that, though.

According to the American Obesity Association, only one of the 50 states forbids employment discrimination based on weight (no, youll have to guess or go to the link).

Studies collected by this advocacy group found that obese people get paid less for doing the same work as people not identified as obese, and that the more extreme the obesity, the deeper the pay cut.

A Western Michigan University Management school study indicated mildly obese white women made 6 percent less, and morbidly obese white women 24 percent less than their peers of weight considered "normal."

It looks to me as though in 49 of 50 states, employers are already charging the obese some (or, at 24 percent, perhaps all) of the additional costs presumed by Gilliam and Neill.

There are other costs, of course, beyond what employers throw at insurance companies, self-managed care plans and docs.

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