Years ago, I made a forecast in The New Health Age and in several keynote presentations that, in the future, companies will be held accountable for employee wellness. Americans might soon be able to search and compare how well healthcare organizations and individuals are performing in their role of creating health. Corporate wellness is very important in achieving a healthy America.
It puts a “target on the back” of employees “who are dealing with obesity.”
JAMES ZERVIOS, OBESITY ACTION COALITION
STAT reached out to several global companies that joined the initiative. Merck, Unilever, and Novo Nordisk would not answer specific questions about the type of data they plan to collect or publish.
One of the smaller companies participating in the initiative, Allegacy Federal Credit Union of North Carolina, already publishes a three-page “corporate health metrics report” that rates the company on categories ranging from “leadership” to “health status” to “environment.”
Garrick Throckmorton, an assistant vice president at the credit union, said Allegacy has no plans to report “specifically on the literal health of an employee or an employee group.”
But other companies are doing just that — among them, Discovery Ltd., a South Africa-based financial services organization that signed on to the initiative. (The Vitality Group, which is organizing the campaign, is a member of the Discovery organization.)
In a report last year, Discovery noted that the proportion of overweight employees — those deemed “at risk” due to high body mass index — rose from 58 percent to 60 percent. The share of employees at risk due to “poor nutritional intake” also edged up 2 percent.
On the plus side, employees lost a collective 210 inches from their waist circumference.
The Discovery report also details results from the company’s “10 Ton Challenge,” listing which departments lost the most weight.
Publishing such information could spur discrimination against employees who have trouble keeping up with the pack, said James Zervios, a vice president at the Obesity Action Coalition.
“It does inadvertently put a target on employees’s backs who are dealing with obesity,” he said.
“If you want to talk about how many times a machine broke down last year, I can understand that,” Zervios said. But people, he said, don’t belong in that category of asset. “At the end of the day, these are human beings. We all have families, we all have lives, we all have problems,” he said.
Yach said he is confident that existing laws are strong enough to prevent companies from firing employees for being unhealthy.
And he and others involved with the initiative said holding companies accountable for their employees’ health is important — not just for the workers, but for stockholders. They point to a study recently published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that several companies that had won an award for wellness programs outperformed the S&P 500.
It’s important to note, however, that the awards only honored companies with good programs; it wasn’t an award for the healthiest employees. And there’s no proof that the financial gains had anything at all to do with employee weight or mental health. But Yach said he was convinced that it was “more than a pure chance finding.”
Furthermore, he said, employee health data might be useful to investors.
STAT contacted more than a dozen investors to see if they, in fact, wanted such information. Only the Tennessee Department of Treasury responded to specific questions.
Their response? “We really do not have an opinion on this novel information.”
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