fat.jpgEmployers, aka Big Brothers, aka Richard Simmons wannabes, want you to drop and give them twenty.

Aaron Lefkove, who works for a publishing firm in Manhattan, gets periodic memos and emails from his HR department reminding him to walk more, and offering tips on staying fit and diet.

The notes haven’t really helped.

He knows he shouldn’t be eating the cheeseburger and curly fries special from the deli across the street from his office, but he does, often. The deal is $5 and it’s yummy.

“It’s a great stress reliever and the deal of the century,” says Lefkove, whose employer has gone through two rounds of layoffs, implemented a pay freeze, and added lots of extra work for everyone left behind.

Lefkove, 28, has gained about 12 pounds since October, and attributes most of that to on-the-job stress and being forced to buy lower-cost, fattening foods.

He even started a blog called DisgustingThingsIHaveEaten.com that chronicles his stress and comfort eating.

The recession has caused a lot of stress for employees and some have seen their healthy habits go right out the window as a result. In my MSNBC.com column today I report on how employers aren’t skimping on wellness programs even though the recession has caused them to hack and slash almost everything else.

You’re costing your bosses too much money when it comes to health care, and many believe the best way to stop you all from using medical care is the make you healthier.

Clearly the cost for such wellness programs are a drop in the bucket compared to health care costs.

Here are some numbers from Towers Perrin comparing the two:

For wellness programs, those that are identifying and mitigating lifestyle risks with health assessment and biometrics followed by coaching (telephonic, web, mail), the cost would be about $125-150 per employee per year. The cost of incentives is very variable and would be added on top of that. A full health management program with enhanced case management, disease management and gaps in care would range from $100-150 per employee per year. A comprehensive health management program would cost $225-300 per year.

Given that the total cost of healthcare per employee per year in the 2009 Towers Perrin Health Care Cost Survey (HCCS) ranged from $8,904 for high performing companies to $10,104 for low performing companies, the percentage of total cost for a comprehensive health management programs for a high performing company is 2.5-3.4%, and for a low performing company is 2.2-3.0%. For just a wellness program, as defined above, it is 1.4- 1.7% for the high performers and 1.2-1.5% for the low performers.

Implementing wellness programs make sense, but employers have to be careful of crossing the discriminatory line.

I’m sure there are companies out there that really care for employees, but let’s face it, the bottom line is driving this desire to make you healthier and that could lead to some overzealous managers.


Too much get-healthy pressure, makes some employee advocates uncomfortable, and there are strict federal guidelines employers have to follow when crafting such weight management programs.

“We need to make sure overweight and obese employees, who are already vulnerable to stigma in the workplace, are not stigmatized even further,” stresses Rebecca Puhl, coordinator of weight stigma initiatives at Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

And labor attorney Hanan Kolko maintains: “employers shouldn’t be our mothers. Workers ought to have the right to be left alone.”

There’s a fine line between helping workers stay healthy and invading a person’s privacy.

What is your employer doing? Is it helping you stay healthy, or is it making you uncomfortable?

Tell me what you had for breakfast or lunch today. Devouring donuts and cheeseburgers may get you in the workplace pokey.

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