Fat waistline, thinner paycheck

Posted: April 11, 2013

SEVERAL years ago, I wrote about health care in Japan, where the government had begun charging corporations for their overweight employees. The Japanese tackle diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease with a tape measure first: A waist circumference greater than 33.5 inches for women and 35.5 inches for men is enough to trigger a fine for an employer.

My readers scoffed at this strategy, reacting with laughter and a lot of eye-rolling.

Fast-forward to today. With health-care costs soaring in the United States, many companies have started to penalize overweight employees.

By now you've probably heard about Michelin North America, which plans to penalize employees with high blood pressure or a waistline of 40 inches or more (for men, 35 for women) by making them pay up to $1,000 more for health insurance, according to the Wall Street Journal.

CVS recently announced a "Plan for Health," requiring its 200,000 employees to "be more accountable for taking control of their health and associated costs," according to a news release on the company website. Employees who don't get a health screening and complete an annual online "wellness review" by May 1 will have to pay $600 more a year for their health insurance.

For years, corporations used the carrot - in-house fitness facilities, nutrition programs and healthier cafeteria options - to gently encourage employees to take control of their health.

Now the tide has changed, and companies are using a stick, and maybe pinching employees' wallets, to change their behavior.

Love it or hate it, this trend is gaining momentum. It's all very Orwellian and "nanny state" to have somebody watching your waistline, isn't it?

Or is it?

There's no question that the larger your waist, the more at risk you are for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers. But should your employer be worrying about that? Is that discrimination?

Health-care costs are skyrocketing. Should overweight employees pay more for health care than people who control their weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Lots of questions relating to this hot potato! What do you think, Daily News readers?

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.

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