State Employees Will Go From Fat to Fit--Or Else

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn August 23, 2008In: Off-Duty Conduct, Wellness, Health, and Safety

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Get Fit or Get Fired? No, but if you're employed by the State of Alabama, you'll have to pay higher insurance premiums.

Fat employees, beware. The State of Alabama has issued an official “crackdown” on unfit employees. That’s right. The state has issued a get-fit mandate. Employees have one year to “see the light,” so to speak. Either get moving towards thin or face a bulging health-care premium. Employees who fail to trim their waistlines will pay $25 a month for insurance that will be free to their leaner coworkers. piggy

Alabama is the first state that has elected a “stick” approach to motivating employees to get healthy. There are a few states that offer rewards (i.e., carrots), to employees who make healthy lifestyle changes. Like many other employers, both public and private, Alabama already charges a premium to employees who smoke.

So what exactly is required? According to the New York Times article, Extra Pounds Means Insurance Fees for Ala. Workers, beginning in January 2010, state workers will be required to undergo health screenings—or face a monetary penalty if they refuse. If the screening reveals problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, or obesity, they are given one year to shape up or ship out. At a follow-up screening after twelve months, they won’t face the $25 charge.

And what will qualify employees for a passing grade when they take the screening test next year? Employees with a Body Mass Index (BMI) lower than 34 will be exempt from the “obesity charge.” A BMI of 30 is considered the threshold for obesity. And if you fail the screening? Other than being required to “make progress,” the State has not yet determined exactly how “progress” will be defined.

Maybe the most obvious question is just how the State of Alabama thinks that its out-of-shape employees, many of whom have been battling their weight, cholesterol, or other health issues for years, will suddenly develop the motivation, knowledge, and skills to make these changes. Deeply rooted lifestyle changes are not made because of an HR initiative.

If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. When employers stopped hiring smokers and charging employees who smoked, I was skeptical. Although there are obvious and undisputable benefits to a tobacco-free workforce, I worried that the proffered motivation was a bit too “glossy” to be true.

I also wondered how long it would be until there weren’t enough smokers left to make them a valuable target. At that point, what group would be the next to be targeted? I suspected it would be obese or overweight employees. It seems my prediction has come to fruition. At least for overweight government employees in a state where 30.3% of citizens are obese.