my employer gives extra perks to thin people

A reader writes:

I’ve just learned that my new employer gives extra perks to people who meet certain health metrics. BMI is one of the health metrics they use to determine if you receive the extra perks.

Everyone gets a certain level of discount on the company’s products. But if you meet a certain level of “health,” measured by several things including BMI, you get larger discounts on the products, up until the maximum discount level, which is for people with the lowest BMI.

In order to get the discounts, you have to undergo a medical exam, although no one is forced to do the medical exam if they are not seeking the extra discounts. This is not tied to health insurance in any way and applies to employees whether or not they receive their health insurance through the company (I do not). The company is not in the healthcare industry.

I’m a fat person with a BMI above 29, which disqualifies me for these extra perks. I take a medication that greatly improves my quality of life but comes with some weight gain (although I don’t think that should be relevant, I’m just including it for extra context about my own feelings). My doctor is pleased with my overall health and health habits.

The most perks are given to people with a BMI under 23, which is almost certainly not possible for me and my body type (at least without really drastic dieting or some sort of health crisis).

Not being eligible for any of the extra perks has really hurt my feelings and made me feel bad about myself. There are so many reasons why people may not meet these specific health metrics that are out of their control — medication, genetics, age, disability — and it feels unfair to me to reward people for their bodies. What is your take on this policy?

Gross and almost certainly illegal.

Federal law regulates “wellness programs” like this through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and has a lot of rules for what is and isn’t permissible.

I talked with employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the fantastic book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired, who said, “It looks like this may violate the requirements in several ways. But also, since these are employee discounts given to employees who are also customers, it might violate non-employment discrimination laws. I would think if the weight/BMI was as a result of a disability, they would at least have to offer reasonable accommodations in the program. The whole thing looks to me like an exercise in public fat-shaming. Coworkers will know everyone’s BMI by their discount.”

Donna went through the law’s requirements one by one and explained her concerns:

EEOC: The final rule retains the requirement in the proposed rule that an employee health program — including any disability-related inquiries or medical examinations that are part of such a program — must be “reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease.”

Donna: I would ask if a weight-only program is reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease. While obesity can be a health issue, it can be caused by other health issues and disabilities.

EEOC: Asking employees to provide medical information on a HRA (health risk assessment) without providing any feedback about risk factors or without using aggregate information to design programs or treat any specific conditions would not be reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease.

Donna: Here, there seems to be no feedback other than discounts. So this does not seem like a program designed to promote health or prevent disease.

EEOC:  Specifically, an employer:
• may not require any employee to participate;
• may not deny any employee who does not participate in a wellness program access to health coverage or prohibit any employee from choosing a particular plan; and
• may not take any other adverse action or retaliate against, interfere with, coerce, intimidate, or threaten any employee who chooses not to participate in a wellness program or fails to achieve certain health outcomes.

Donna: Here, it seems like the discount program done in a way that coworkers are aware of the weight of each coworker could be coercive and intimidating.

EEOC: Additionally, in order to ensure that an employee’s participation is voluntary, an employer must provide a notice that clearly explains what medical information will be obtained, how it will be used, who will receive it, and the restrictions on disclosure.

Donna: There seem to be no restrictions on disclosure. You either get the discount or don’t. Everyone running payments will know. And then they will also know what percentage discount you get, and that means they will know their coworker’s medical information.

EEOC: A covered entity only may receive information collected by a wellness program in aggregate form that does not disclose, and is not reasonably likely to disclose, the identity of specific individuals except as is necessary to administer a health plan.

Donna: Here, everyone that processes the discounts will have the information disclosed to them, and whoever is setting the discount percentages will know individual information, not aggregate.

EEOC: An employer may not require an employee to agree to the sale, exchange, sharing, transfer, or other disclosure of medical information, or to waive confidentiality protections under the ADA as a condition for participating in a wellness program or receiving an incentive for participating, except to the extent permitted by the ADA to carry out specific activities related to the wellness program.

Donna: The very nature of the program requires waiver of confidentiality.

And that’s before even getting into Donna’s point that the program might violate nonemployment discrimination laws as well.

So, letter-writer, if you feel like taking this on, you might inquire of your company how its program complies with federal requirements. If you don’t want to be adversarial about it, particularly since you’re new, you can couch it in a tone of “I’m concerned we might be violating the law.”

And really, companies that want to promote healthy habits in their employees should focus on what they can do on their side of the equation — like offering excellent health insurance (including mental health coverage), setting reasonable working hours and encouraging people to take vacations, providing healthy snacks, and making it easy for people to take walks during the day. Stay out of people’s weight, which is between them and their doctors.

Last, here’s another plug for Donna’s book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting FiredIt’s an incredibly useful and reader-friendly guide to your rights at work and what to do when your employer isn’t following the law. It’s like having an employment lawyer help you deal with nearly any situation that might come up in the workplace, and everyone who works should own a copy.

{ 466 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi, all — It’s fine to share your own experiences of working at a company that did/does this, but — as always — please be careful not to speculate on where the LW works.

  2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    Ew. Gross. That’s all.

    I’m sorry, LW. That’s really distressing for ME to hear, and I’m well-removed from the situation!

    1. Hills to Die On*

      It is. How are the thin people supposed to feel good about getting the discounts? And if nothing else (although there is plenty there), why would you want to demoralize your staff?
      However, I would probably not say anything and call the whistleblower hotline anonymously if there is one / the company is large enough) but that’s just me. No reason to cause problems for yourself – just my opinion.

      1. it's just the frame of mind*

        Well, this is one major aspect of how anti-fat bias functions. Thin people (such as myself) have been fed an enormous amount of BS including things such as “you should feel good about yourself for being thin” and “you must deserve to be thin” and “you should fear getting fat”. So we are primed to feel good about getting this discount because we’ve told we should feel good about it, we deserve it, and we should fear losing it.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          I’m thin and don’t feel good about it. I look like a stick, not a person. Self-conscious. Since menopause and stress-related weight loss I have not been able to control my weight and had moments of being afraid I’d waste away and die.
          I don’t know how I’d feel about rewards for something I’d change if I could, except I generally don’t buy mainstream/trendy stuff and the rewards programs I’ve seen didn’t have anything I wanted.

      2. Former Fruit Slinger*

        If this is the company I think it is, I qualified with a firmly underweight BMI. It did not feel good, and after the first year I never recertified.

        1. Emilia*

          Oh my, I hope it’s the same company. Otherwise there’s more than one that does this?! Incredible. Is this in the US? I don’t think the OP specified the country either.

        2. Remich*

          I’m making a lot of assumptions, but I could certainly see a program like this existing at certain California-based tech companies…………….

      3. Fran Fine*

        How are the thin people supposed to feel good about getting the discounts?

        I’m thin and I certainly wouldn’t if my company did this. Maybe some people can rationalize it away because many companies give extra incentives to folks who don’t smoke, for example, so they, and this company, see it as kind of the same thing? I don’t know…

        1. quill*

          It’s also a lot easier to not have noticed that you’re getting a discount if you’re not in the group being descriminated against. Unless the company’s pretty blatantly advertising that you get the discount because of your BMI, there’s probably a few thin people who either don’t know that the discount is approved or denied on the basis of BMI, or who are not necessarily aware that they’re paying less than other people instead of just less than they would have if they didn’t participate.

      4. pancakes*

        “No reason to cause problems for yourself” – Hills, please have a look at the title of the book mentioned at the end of the post. There are several good reasons why someone might push back on a policy like this one. It’s poorly designed, it harms employees, and it’s almost certainly illegal.

        1. Hills to Die On*

          I am saying that if OP can do it without bringing attention to themselves and having a dysfunctional company label them as The Troublemaker then I think it’s the smart way to go.
          Suffice it to say, some people are not in a position to push back and they should not have to take up a cause in the name of harm to their overall financial well being and general stability. People should be allowed to make that decision without judgement in the name of survival.
          Sometimes they can push back safely – and should.
          Sometimes the problem can’t be avoided and in that case, by all means, spend the capital on it. But if you can push back AND avoid consequences, then that’s what I would do first.
          At no point did I say ‘never say a word’ (yeah, if there’s anything I truly and utterly suck at it’s keeping my opinions to myself); I have worked for some crazily dysfunctional companies and I am in an industry known for being bigoted. And not only do I know the title of the book, I bought it a decade ago, have read, studied, and highlighted it cover to cover before buying copies for other people to help them as well.

          1. pancakes*

            Ok, and they are allowed that decision, regardless what anyone says here. It’s not as if the EEOC is going to knock on their door and demand to know why they didn’t take action if they decide not to do anything. The EEOC expert also suggested a really good, non-adversarial approach along the lines of expressing concerns about violating the law. Of course they don’t have to take that approach either, but it doesn’t seem helpful to me to suggest there aren’t clear and worthwhile reasons to take it. There are, and those don’t go away even if the letter writer’s needs for self-preservation would make that approach too risky to follow through on.

            My overall point is that when someone decides to take or not take action in a scenario like this, they should be clear with themselves about why. “My career might take a hit and I can’t risk that right now” is clear. “There’s no reason for anyone to stick their neck out” isn’t because that isn’t actually correct.

        2. Polecat*

          Just sit back and endure potentially illegal discrimination because you’re fat… Not great advice. The company counts on people being afraid to speak up. Bigotry thrives when people don’t speak up

          1. Freelance Anything*

            The middle of Hills’ sentence is that LW call an anonymous whistleblower hotline, not that LW should do nothing

          2. Sloanicota*

            I’m excited that this is one of the few times Alison actually gets to note that something may be illegal! Usually the questioner is being non-discriminatorily-bullied or the employer is messing with leave or work conditions in some crappy but ultimately legal way, and they are hoping Alison will be able to give them a different answer than “that stinks and you should job search” !

            1. Minimal Pear*

              Right? It feels like some sort of special day, when the response is “No, actually, that’s illegal.”

      5. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I don’t think it’s helpful to frame discrimination against a group of people as a problem for the favored group of people. When fat people are being shamed and punished for their weight, the issue is not about how thin people are supposed to enjoy their perks guilt-free. (Also, the answer is for the thin people to push back about the unfairness of the program).

        1. pierrot*

          Thank you. I know the intention behind this comment was good, but I feel like literally any time an issue that fat people face comes up on the Internet, someone always has to bring up how thin people are impacted too.

          1. Zap R.*

            I wish I had a doughnut for every time someone’s asked me “What about skinny-shaming?”

            1. Despachito*

              But thin people ARE impacted as well – this entire practice is humiliating for ANYONE, irrespective of whether you qualify or not, and I actully think that thin people can do a lot in this case – by flatly refusing the “perks” and pointing out it is humiliating even for those who qualify. The pushback can carry a lot more weight (pun intended) if coming from the “privileged” ones.

              1. Zap R.*

                The issue is that thin people are not impacted *on the same level* as fat people and it is genuinely frustrating for fat people to be unable to discuss issues that affect us without a thin person chiming in.

                In the case of pushback, allyship from thin people is important but it’s not fat peoples’ job to validate and reward it.

                1. Despachito*

                  But this is not just about “fat” or “slim”, this is about body policing which is highly inappropriate irrespective of our weight, and we are basically in the same boat – neither of us wants our employer to interfere with what is not their business.

                  It is true that it affects slim and fat people differently as the former can benefit from the policy, but if you look behind the surface, it is inherently humiliating for everyone, and we should consider it as such.

                  And if I understand correctly your last sentence about validating and rewarding, I partly disagree – I think that anyone who pushes back from a privileged position because of something they consider unfair although it favours them, deserves recognition because they could just sit back and enjoy their privilege, but they choose to bat for a just cause. This is an act of a decent person and deserves to be recognized as such.

          1. Despachito*

            But why? This practice is equally humiliating for the thin people and for the fat people, and I’d applaud every thin person who is able to realize this and push back.

            It is helpful to realize that we are on the same boat, it is not “the thin ones against the fat ones”. If someone humiliates my peer and I am spared, this does not mean that I am safe, only that the danger for me is postponed.

            1. pancakes*

              It is, but framing this as a gotcha! question that pits fat and thin people against one another isn’t necessary to make that point, and doesn’t seem helpful in terms of moving onward from it. A policy like this is bad no matter what the weight distribution among employees is. If people can’t grasp that without first envisioning a conflict between the fat and thin ones or assuming there is one, maybe we should inquire why, and ask ourselves whose interests are served by that framing. If the impetus is just that it comes naturally to people, I would say that doesn’t make it advantageous to keep.

              1. Despachito*

                I am fully with you in that – it is a problem for everyone irrespective of their weight. Perhaps I misunderstood something but the “not worried about the feelings of the thin people here” rubbed me the wrong way because I read it as perceiving the whole thing as a conflict between the fat and the thin, which – I agree with you – would not be helpful at all.

    2. Hills to Die On*

      And also – just because you are thin does not mean you are healthy. Look at OP – they are taking medication that improved their health and leads to weight gain. What about bodybuilders, who are BMI fat but in reality have a low percent of body fat? There is so much wrong with this. Even if it were not illegal and unethical. Ugh.

      1. Anonym*

        YES. The point at which my BMI was lowest was when I was the unhealthiest I’ve been in my adult life. BMI is terrible, for so many reasons, and is a terrible assessment tool for an individual’s health.

        1. drtheliz*

          BMI should just never be applied to individuals. It’s meant to be a statistic applied to a large population. While its worth as a metric at all is debatable, applying it to an individual is nonsense

          It’s like saying that my diminutive friend is unhealthy because she’s in the bottom 20% of adult height – no, she’s just short, because some people are short.

          1. cottagechick*

            The Maintenance Phase podcast has an episode on “Body Mass Index” (August 2021) that tells the history of where the whole BMI thing came from. And yeah it’s all actuary tables and junk science

            1. Anonym*

              Maintenance Phase is amazing. Even if diet and health isn’t an area of interest for you, it will make you smarter and better able to parse information and understand the world we live in. Strong, strong recommend!

            2. SometimesALurker*

              Thiring the Maintenance Phase recommendation. They’re also really good at explaining the real answers to “why the fuck would anyone think this was a good idea?!?!” regarding things like this program. I mean, the answer is anti-fat bias, but they go into the nuances.

              1. AnonaLlama*

                Fourthing! Listen to Maintenance Phase to learn about how toxic “wellness” culture is and be entertained in the process.

            3. Mischa*

              Also, their episodes “Is Being Fat Bad For You?” (November 16, 2021) and “Zombie Statistics Spectacular!” (April 19, 2022) shed even more light on how using weight/BMI as The One True, Consistent Marker of Health is deeply, deeply flawed.

              1. MansplainerHater*

                I am also a MP STAN!! And agree with commenter above about how it will help you take a step back when reading almost anything and say “where did this come from?”

            4. SassyLibrarian*

              I came here to mention this podcast and this episode specifically about how measuring health according to BMI is actually TRASH and shouldn’t be used even in normal doctor’s offices let alone as a condition for discounts and perks. Bleggh!

          2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

            I am considering an elective surgery that would greatly improve the quality of life…but the surgeon, and my insurance, will not perform it unless I am under a certain BMI.

            Never mind that it would be easier to do fun things like, you know, exercise, if I could have the damn surgery. Boggles my mind.

            1. JoAnna*

              I wanted to get tested to see if I could donate a kidney to a friend who needs a transplant, but when I called to inquire I was told my BMI was too high to donate. I’m in otherwise perfect health.

              1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

                Because God forbid anyone should get stuck with our fat kidneys…

                I’m sorry you have had to deal with that, and I hope your friend is able to receive a transplant soon.

            2. Forrest Gumption*

              Amazing that actual medical doctors use such a quack measurement when deciding who should and should not qualify for surgery! And by amazing, I mean shocking.

            3. Zap R.*

              The way BMI gets weaponized against people seeking breast-reduction surgery in particular is infuriating.

              1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

                Bingo, you nailed it. The surgeon’s office was very sympathetic, but the insurance companies aren’t going to budge.

                I would find it much easier to do active things I like (yoga, strength training, swimming) if my body didn’t get in its own way most of the time. I haven’t been able to find a swimsuit or sports bra that allows for much movement in…gosh, decades, literally.

                I am attempting to lose weight so I can get this done, but I shouldn’t have to, and it’s demoralizing.

                1. Zap R.*

                  Oh, I hear you on this. I can do yoga so long as I modify certain poses but I haven’t run or swam since high school because I can’t afford a custom-made sports bra or bathing suit top. Theoretically, easily available, affordable plus-sized clothing for people with large busts would solve my problem but that’s a whole other depressing kettle of fish.

                2. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

                  Zap, the struggle is real! I so wish I’d had this done, like, 15 years ago when I was in grad school, stressed out ot my mind, living on caffeine and the odd bowl of cereal. Wow, that was a rough time…but I bet my BMI was right on target. Funny, that.

                  (Never mind, I couldn’t have afforded it back then, and my creepy advisor would have commented on it if I had managed to do it.)

        2. Broadway Duchess*

          Yes! This is so annoying. I lost a lot of weight fairly quickly due to an undiagnosed condition and major depression related to getting that condition taken seriously. My coworkers, who have really poor boundaries, kept talking a out how great I looked. No, I didn’t look great: my hair was falling out, my skin was patchy, I had no appetite, and I was exhausted. What I was, though, was skinny — which “obviously” means healthy.

          1. CreepyPaper*

            *vigorous nodding in agreement*

            When I was first diagnosed with Crohns way back when, I was skeletally thin and looked awful. I was wearing a UK size 4 – not sure what the US equivalent size is, sorry – which is way below my normal size of a UK 10/12 which thankfully I am back at now.

            I remember explaining to a colleague who complimented me on how good I looked what was going on and she said ‘I wouldn’t care if I had an illness, I just want to be thin’ and my face was like :| seriously? Skinny is not necessarily healthy!

            1. Fran Fine*

              I had people say that to me when explaining why I lost weight when I was first diagnosed with celiac (and I was small to begin with, so losing even more weight was scary to me). It was truly mind-boggling that there are people out there who would rather have a chronic illness that can make them sick enough to lose weight than be a normal or even heavier weight.

              1. CreepyPaper*

                I have to say I did snap at a few people who said I should be grateful it was so easy to lose weight now because, and I quote, ‘all the exercise you do obviously doesn’t work’ and I went into pretty graphic detail about what was actually going on in my intestines… and they still didn’t care. They just saw it as ‘Creeps is thin now’ and didn’t understand that I was literally existing on water and the occasional grape before I got diagnosed.

                Luckily this was many years and two jobs ago, I work with mostly sensible people now.

                1. Fran Fine*

                  ‘all the exercise you do obviously doesn’t work’

                  OMG! People really need to learn that not every thought they have needs to leave their lips. Good grief.

            2. emmelemm*

              I have heard so many people (women) say, essentially, “Well, even if I got sick, at least I’d be thin.”

            3. MusicWithRocksIn*

              My first round with Ulcerative colitis brought my weight so low. I basically stopped eating because eating led to pain (also my doctor was a quack). I remember everyone saying how awful I looked, but my mom was so excited I was so thin. It was definitely the lowest BMI I’ve had in my adult life- and the worst my health has ever been. Living with Ulcerative Colitis under control means there are a lot of normal ways I can’t diet (salad is not an option for me) but I would way rather be over the recommended BMI and healthy than thin and bleeding out every day.

            4. M.*

              *incoherent screech of agreement*

              I’m feeling a little raw about this myself right now, having just gone through the most alarming bout of weight loss I’ve ever had. I’ve got EDS + MCAS (took me almost a decade to get diagnosed, during which I just… continually lost the ability to eat almost anything without being violently sick; part of why it took so long was that no doctor would believe there was anything wrong with me because I “looked healthy,” i.e. thin, and my bloodwork was normal). With treatment I’m slowly regaining a few foods, but it’s always a bit of a dice roll (my system is a wreck after such a limited diet for so long), and if I try anything I have a reaction to, I get knocked down for a couple of days. The EDS would be a mostly-irrelevant comorbidity, except it turns out that if you twist your c-spine badly enough, it compresses the nerve responsible for (among other things) brain/gut connection, which results in constant overwhelming nausea and “oh no this is Bad better toss it all back out” signals any time you try to eat. I got whacked by the spinal torque and an MCAS trigger at the same time, went days at a time without being able to keep anything down, lost 10% of my total weight in a month (which tipped me squarely into being underweight), and ended up so weak that I had to call a friend to drive me literally 3 blocks to the PT rehab clinic because I couldn’t walk that far by myself. Cousin’s first comment after seeing me for the first time in a while (at which point I looked gaunt and exhausted and generally like death warmed over): “OMG you’re so skinny! I hate you! What’s your secret? … wow, you’re so lucky, I wish *I* lost weight like that when I got sick; you must have so much self-control, I’d still be eating ice cream even if it made me feel like crap afterwards.” I had to take myself off the family Zoom call at that point and just… cry. I’d take literally any amount of weight gain in exchange for the ability to function like a normal, healthy human being.

              tl;dr BMI is garbage and weight discrimination/bias is terrible for everybody. It’s obviously worse for people on the other end of the scale – and it’s disgusting that so many people seem to view sizeism as a somehow more “acceptable” prejudice than all the other -isms out there – but there’s also a nasty and medically consequential edge to the pedestalizing of thinness for people whose thinness is a result of illness. (I don’t mean this to be a “but what about how hard it is for [group privileged by the crappy -ism]??” post so much as a “burn it all down in solidarity, it feeds into a system that produces emotional pain and worse health outcomes for everybody” post.)

          2. FrenchCusser*

            I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when I lost 75 lbs. due to a life threatening illness, and so many people kept telling me ‘how good I looked’ that I wanted to knock heads together.

            And when I asked them directly to stop saying that, they’d double down, ‘Oh, but you do!’


            1. darcy*

              when i had this happen i started just flatly saying that it was due to a medical issue and staring at them until they moved onto saying something else. nobody did it twice lol

            2. Ridiculous Penguin*

              I lost 60 pounds not because of illness but because I was essentially homeless and (a) barely had enough money to buy food and (b) was carrying a huge 50-lb. bag of two weeks of clothes — which I’d occasionally switch out at my storage space — on my back as I couch surfed from place to place. No one expressed care about my ***life circumstances*** but a lot of people complimented me on how “good” I looked. I’ll never forget who those people were.

          3. starfox*

            My friend lost a bunch of weight because she had an autoimmune thing (don’t remember the details). She had to go on a really restrictive diet to figure out what was causing the flare-ups. When she told people that’s why she lost weight, some people had the gall to say, “Oh, I wish I could get that!”

            1. Nikki*

              People said this to me about my grueling jaw surgery!
              TBH I take it as a symptom of our culture’s awful obsession with weight. It says something about society when people are willing to endure basically any amount of suffering if it means they’ll be thin. :/

          4. Zap R.*

            The smallest I’ve ever been in my adult life was when I had a bleeding ulcer. People told me I looked great and it was like, okay, cool. I’ll remember that the next time I’m in the ER from dehydration.

          5. Media Monkey*

            my friend had the same. when she had just recovered from malaria. so clearly the picture of health (by picture of health i mean skinny…)

          6. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            This so much. I lost a lot of weight in a scary short period of time when I had a really bad depressive episode, and people were telling me how great I looked. I was losing weight because I essentially stopped eating. Starvation isn’t healthy.

        3. Media Monkey*

          i wish BMI would just die a death when applied to individuals. it literally means nothing.

      2. Ama*

        I took a Nutrition class in college over 20 years ago and they already knew BMI was a BS measurement back then, it’s so annoying that we are still using that as any kind of marker.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Especially because we have better markers, such as body fat percentage and blood cholesterol levels, but no one bothers to use them. Just stick them on a scale, that will tell us everything we need to know!

          1. Gothic Bee*

            Exactly. Like, it’s absurd to use weight/BMI as a health indicator when you can just… check the way a person’s body actually functions! You can check their heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. (idk, I’m not a doctor). In fact, if we quit focusing on weight as an indicator of health, it would probably be better for thin people too because I don’t doubt there are people for whom these problems are missed just because they’re thin and in “great shape”. You can do all “right things” (eat healthy, workout, be at a healthy weight, etc.) and still be unhealthy because your body isn’t a perfect machine!

            1. Mellie Bellie*

              OMG, this!! I am thin and by most metrics “fit.”However, I have had insanely high blood pressure (like for real, not slightly elevated) for the last nine months. And I have a family history of it, as well. Yet, I cannot get a medical
              professional to take it seriously. To date, instead of just accepting that, yes, it is high and prescribing me medication, they have: (1) changed the BP measuring instrument multiple times – claiming the reading must be wrong, even though it was similarly high every single time; (2) changed every other medication I’m on even though I’ve been on them since forever because they’re for lifelong asthma and not getting pregnant, to no avail; (3) insisted that I have all new blood work but not doing anything when it’s all fine except for the HBP; and (4) are now wanting me to come back again in six months (without treatment) just to see. I’m 45. I’ve seen what HBP can do. And yet, I can’t get a doctor (and I’ve seen three at this point who all commented on this) to do a damned thing about my HBP because I don’t “look” like someone who should have HBP at 45.

              1. Academic Physician*

                I’m so sorry this is happening! You are right to take this seriously.

                Have you had any kidney imaging— specifically to look at the blood flow to your kidneys? Also, I assume you have been seeing primary care-type doctors? You could try changing specialties — a kidney doctor (nephrologist) or heart doctor (cardiologist)

        2. Nikki*

          My college used BMI to bully me about being too thin.
          Turns out I actually had a genetic disorder, but of course they didn’t manage to diagnose that…

      3. L'étrangere*

        More to the point Hills, people in the underweight range have significantly higher mortality than the most extremely obese. Not having any reserves means you can’t survive many common illnesses

        1. JustaTech*

          Not to mention that rapid weight loss, especially unintentional weight loss, is often a sign of a serious medical condition (like cancer).

          Health is so much more complicated than a single, poorly applied, metric!

      4. londonedit*

        Absolutely. Last year I had a health condition that caused me to lose weight without trying. Now, that condition has been stabilised with medication, which is great, and far healthier for me all round than my previous situation. That stability has meant I’ve gained back the weight I lost while I was actively unwell, and put a bit more on for good measure (possibly because over the last year I’d got into a habit of eating more, possibly because of a general effect on my metabolism). I’m actually the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life right now. I’m not overweight, but it’s been a huge change to deal with and I have been struggling with it (when I was ill I got so many ‘Wow, you’re looking great!’ comments which have slowly disappeared over the last few months). If I then found out that I couldn’t receive a workplace perk that other people were entitled to simply because of my current weight, I’d definitely be upset by that.

      5. Ayla*

        I’m not bodybuilder, but I like hiking and am genetically predisposed to putting on a LOT of calf and thigh muscle. Those suckers are heavy! At my peak performance I’m well in the overweight range of BMI, despite benchmarks like blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol being great. It doesn’t take much to throw off the index.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          Whereas I, though no one’s idea of particularly skinny, would probably fall into the ”could lose a few lbs, but literally just 5-1o” on the scale, and since I was a solid 15lbs lighter than I am now, have battled with primary hypertension. I have never smoked. I run and am quite fit. I eat salad, I drink water and only drink alcohol very moderately and not frequently.

          And yet, here we are. I wonder if I’d be punished for having hypertension in the way the OP is being punished for not being extremely slender. The whole notion is ridiculous. Why do that kind of perk benchmarking at all would be my question? Just give perks to staff or don’t. The end.

      6. FrivYeti*

        On top of that, BMI is also extremely racist. It was derived based entirely on the average height and weight of white, mostly British men, and studies have consistently shown that black people have higher healthy weights on average.

        And it’s creepily eugenicist; the information from BMI was used to identify candidates for forced sterilization on the grounds that they were too far from the ‘ideal’ average ratings.

        And even discounting all of that, the math on it straight-up doesn’t work because the guy who invented it wasn’t a doctor and didn’t understand how body weight works.

        There’s really nothing salvageable there, and the fact that it hasn’t been tossed on the garbage pile of history is a consistent frustration to me.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          And it’s been adjusted since then – to an even more stringent and less realistic definition. There was a point where a significant chunk of the population supposedly became “overweight” overnight as far as the BMI was concerned.

          1. Midwest Manager*

            When I was in HS in the 90’s in Health Class we had to look up our BMI on a chart and write a paper about our number and ways we could go about lowering it. At 16 yrs old and only 5’4″, but an active dancer, biker, and cross-country runner, mine fell into the “obese” category. I remember my paper was filled with vitriol about how inaccurate that measurement must be and that there was no way I could be obese when I had nearly zero body fat. The teacher’s comment on the returned paper was something like “um… maybe you read the chart wrong?” and I got full marks.

      7. Been There*

        A few years ago I was body-building and I went to the doc for some issues related to the BCP I was on at the time. For context, I am 5’6″, and at the time weighed 155lbs with 10% bodyfat (basically, I was shredded). I also wore a US Size 0. My doc at the time walked into the exam room, didn’t even LOOK at me, and told me my issues were that I needed to lose weight because my BMI indicated I was obese. I was like ???? I AM NOT, I have a six pack!

        I did end up changing docs after that.
        BMI is SO problematic….

      8. quill*

        Also, look at Josh Sundquist’s (an amputee comedian) bit on dealing with automated medical concern about him being underweight… because he’s missing the weight of an entire leg. BMI tends to be a thought-terminating metric for a lot of wellness initiatives. Even if it were useful it would still be leading to a lot of shoddy care, and it turns out to not be useful in any way.

          1. quill*

            The “how to smuggle a 2 Liter of soda into a movie theater” one absolutely slayed my whole family, who are unrepentant smugglers of food into entertainment.

      9. Despachito*

        But the point isn’t what is healthier, the point is that THIS IS NONE OF THE EMPLOYER’S FREAKING BUSINESS.

        We owe our employers our work, but nothing more. Interfering with private lives of the employees, be it their bodies, their relationships or anything else, should be a big NO, regardless of the fact that choice A may be objectively better than choice B.

        I do not, and I think nobody should, feel any need whatsoever to justify our personal, private choices to anyone who is not directly affected by them, and this definitely includes most of the employers (barring the cases where physical fitness is a necessary prerequisite to perform this particular job).

    3. Blue Glass*

      This program sounds cruel. Why not just have your weight tattooed to your forehead? Lord.

    4. Chauncy Gardener*

      Totally gross and really upsetting that a company, in this day and age, would think this is a good thing to do. I’m spending so much time completely gobsmacked lately!

    5. Dr. Doll*

      I saw the title of the post, my mouth dropped open, and I said “That’s *disgusting*.”

    6. Again With Feeling*

      Same. This is so awful. I have the privilege of passing because of how my body is structured, but my BMI is in the “overweight” category. I’m perfectly healthy and my doctor has no concerns. I’ve also had lots of weight fluctuations over the past several years due to pregnancy, breastfeeding, and secondary infertility. How does this horrible program account for that? Ugh. I know there is significant criticism of BMI as an individual measure of health, and I’ve seen commentary that its impact is racist in addition to being ineffectual. Very worth pushing back on!

    1. Ali + Nino*

      You took the words out of my mouth! Literally what I was thinking as I read the title…and whole post…

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This is one of those letters where you read it and then just sit there staring at your computer while all your various negative emotions argue about which gets to express first.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That was my second response. My first was, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.”

    3. NotRealAnonForThis*


      BMI is relevant to the weight status and risk of disease in a POPULATION, not a person. ::sigh::

      23 is a very oddball and arbitrary cutoff too – I thought it looked weird, and its not the edge of the normal range, its a cutoff before the edge. Again – why?

      1. Justme, The OG*

        My child is very small and muscular. She literally wears a size 00 in jeans. Her BMI is over 23. That cutoff is awful.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          Yeah, this really screws very muscular people. I’ve been a recreational crossfitter for years and it’s something the really top athletes will fail. I think by any normal metric, someone who is a competitive athlete in any sport is usually considered “healthy” (let’s leave doping, etc aside) and if people like that couldn’t “pass” a BMI metric like this, it’s obvs not about health.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            My kid is a dancer. Which are stereotypically seen as being very thin, but that is changing outside of ballet.

            1. Nynaeve*

              When I was a ballet dancer, I had a six pack, you could see my entire collarbone and count every rib, I wore an A cup, my hip bones stuck out, etc. My BMI was 25. I was ALL muscle and just very dense. When I quit due to injury, I gained 4 pants sizes in about 6 months, but I dropped about 20lbs, so my BMI was technically better, even though my body fat % shot up and my endurance went way down and none of my clothes fit any more. It’s all BS.

          2. hugseverycat*

            I know you don’t mean it this way, but when people talk about how BMI incorrectly classifies thin or muscular people as fat, it sounds like they’re saying they don’t have a problem with treating fat people badly, but rather they have a problem with BMI incorrectly identifying fat people. That a person who doesn’t “deserve it” might get treated a little bit like a fat person would, and that is worse than treating fat people badly.

            1. Mischa*

              Agreed, 100%. Shamefully, I just understood this distinction, even though I’ve been listening to Maintenance Phase for years now.

            2. Miss Muffet*

              I am sorry if it came off that way, i def didn’t mean it that way. Just wanted to illustrate that it’s a super BS metric that doesn’t even come close to trying to say what it thinks it’s saying.

      2. Lab tech*

        In Asian populations, cardiovascular risk starts to go up around BMI of 23… which is probably not at all what this employer is thinking about.

      3. Lenora Rose*

        Even over a population it’s wrong; the low end of the “overweight” section has *better* health outcomes than the low end of the “healthy” range.

    4. starfox*

      Yeah I don’t even know what to say on this one. The letter was even WORSE than what I imagined from the title.

  3. Oryx*

    I’m a fat person who has been in fat activist spaces for a long time and I really thought I had seen it all . . .

    1. Purple Cat*

      I would love to hear more about your work and what you’ve done. Maybe on the Friday open thread if it’s in the workspace? Or weekend thread if it’s not.

    2. FattyMPH*

      Same. I had a friend reach out about a weight loss competition in her workplace last week and that I’d heard of before. But the cutoff of 23 in this case is honestly messing me up.

      1. FrenchCusser*

        A couple of my coworkers used to take part in a ‘weight loss competition’ the local newspaper (!) used to have. It was kind of alarming to watch that.

    3. cubone*

      alas, the lengths and contortions people go to to justify hating and discriminating against fat people are unending it seems.

    4. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      Yes, same! I have been neck-deep in pro-fat spaces for so long that hearing about this stuff now is like… the most bonkers shit ever. It feels like learning someone’s pay scale is based on how long their pubes are or the width of their big toe or something.

    5. Caroline Bowman*

      What I don’t understand is this: if a company wants to offer and incentivise staff members to live their best lives, surely just offering the perks for products and services that would help with that across the board would be the solution. Maybe… ”50% off entry fees to Local National Park” or ” 25% off polarized sunglasses”. I don’t know precisely, obviously it would vary, but… they should apply to everyone and really be about *everyone* receiving equitable perks that ideally give them a range of cool things that improve their health overall.

      Why go out of their way to be nasty?

      1. Nanani*

        Also giving people adequate time off so they can do things other than sit in the office, whether that’s athletic activities or not, would go a long way!
        It’s almost like fake-concern about health is, well, fake. who’d have thought

      2. ecnaseener*

        Why does anyone go out of their way to be nasty in the guise of “helping”? It’s the best way to get the thrill of being mean while preserving the appearance of a moral high ground – they get a kick out of sorting people into “good, worthy of my help” and “bad, unworthy of any help until they meet my standards”

        1. JustaTech*

          To quote Mark Twain – “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious”

          It’s a thing people do and have done throughout history. And it sucks.
          (I think in this case he was talking about the Temperance Movement in the US that lead to Prohibition.)

      3. Oryx*

        Because they don’t think they are being nasty. They think they are advocating for health, because in their mind thin = healthy and only healthy people deserve these perks.

        1. Lydia*

          The number of comments that include, “I’m really just worried about her/his/your health.”

      4. Gothic Bee*

        I agree, but from an employer perspective, I don’t think they think of it as being nasty. Putting the focus on weight/BMI/other individual factors keeps the spotlight off the things they (the employer) are actually responsible for. Like for example, we know stress is a major contributing factor to bad health, but reducing employee stress would involve things like offering more time off, offering more sick time (and making it flexible, so you can use it for mental health/when kids are sick/to take care of an ailing family member/etc.), hiring more workers, reducing individual workloads, etc. All things they don’t want to spend time and money on so it’s easier to just focus on the stuff that puts the blame for health squarely on the employee.

  4. Princess Xena*

    There is no situation where giving some employees more swag because of their health, body type, or personal appearance is appropriate. Gross.

    1. Rose*

      Seriously. I can’t even decide which part about this is the most idiotic.

      The part where they assume a very low BMI somehow correlates to health even though it’s linked to high mortality, lower fertility, and other issues?

      The incentive to get to a BMI that will make zero sense for most people? I’d need to be at 19% body fat or loose a lot of muscle to have a BMI of 24. I did EVERYTHING I could to get my body fat that low when I was younger and a dancer and it only happened when I had an active eating disorder.

      The idea that healthy people should be rewarded even though lots of people who aren’t healthy have zero control over that?

      Maybe the idea that someone wouldn’t “get healthy” or loose weight for themselves (because it’s notoriously so easy and fun to be a plus size person in our society!!) but I’d do it for a discounted mug?

      Is the whole thing more stupid, or more disgusting? I just can’t decide!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Ugh, this reminds me of when I visited a job site and learned that they had a “Biggest Loser” contest for the employees and I couldn’t even articulate how terrible an idea this seemed to be. The kicker is that the employees were nurses, and the ones I spoke to didn’t seem to think it was inappropriate. What.

  5. anony3357*

    Nothing unusual here. That actually happens at pretty much every large company. It’s a way of the insurance company providing incentives for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 99.9% of the time, there is usually a medical waiver that your doctor signs, and if you submit that form to your employer, then you can get still get the same discount as if you did meet the requirements.

    1. ThatGirl*

      What I have seen at multiple companies is **health insurance premium** discounts tied to various metrics, including BMI, blood pressure, glucose levels, etc. I think that is also gross, but for different reasons.

      This, however? Is not that. This is not a discount on your insurance premium; this is a discount on the products the company makes. Think getting 60% off an iPhone if your BMI is low enough.

      1. The Original K.*

        My employer ties premium discounts to steps to improve wellness in different categories, so seeing your primary, a specialist, a financial advisor or planner, all count. You don’t have to say anything about what went on at the appointment, just that you went (and I think doctor’s appointments are logged automatically). I’ve also seen it tied to gym attendance – if you go x times per month your premium is discounted. Never seen anything tied to specific metrics, though I certainly believe it happens.

        1. WillowSunstar*

          Ours rewards people for getting steps in (yes, ableism), and you have to go into the app and check off your healthy habits every day. They do give you more points for being at your recommended BMI and cholesterol levels and such too. But you can earn points other ways. Otherwise you do get coverage, but you won’t get your discount if you don’t jump through the hoops.

      2. Fran Fine*

        All of this. It’s like this company is badly conflating the gross thing they’re doing with what you mentioned in your first paragraph. What those companies are doing is NOT this.

      3. Miss Muffet*

        Right, and at good companies, these things usually are looked at as a whole, and you are given tools to improve them (other benefits, access to health coaches, whatever) and there are ways to exempt yourself for things like, my doctor is prescribing this medicine that means I will not pass these metrics. Or, I’m pregnant. Or…whatever. Companies should still get out of this space in general but there are ways of doing it *better*. This is not that.

      4. hugseverycat*

        I kind of feel like, privacy concerns with this particular implementation aside, having higher health insurance premiums because of my weight is worse than not getting discounts on company swag. I need the health insurance.

        I know it’s technically legal for companies to charge me more for health insurance because of my weight or whatever, but what is legal isn’t always the same as what is good.

    2. Popinki(she/her)*

      The OP says flat out that this isn’t tied to their health insurance in any way, and they don’t mention anything about a waiver. Just that the thinner you are, the larger your discount.

      1. Alex*

        Every company I worked at offered BMI perks. If you didn’t meet the BMI you could show improvement (either 5 or 10%, can’t remember which one) and still qualify to win. Didn’t realize that was illegal. In fact i am in process of applying for another job and I was sent their benefits package and it outlined BMI related perks

          1. Emilia*

            So… How about discounts when you stop smoking? I think that would be legal (unless in a state where it’s specifically illegal to discriminate against smokers right?).
            Also did OP every specify that this was for the US? Could the laws be different in say the UK or Australia?

            1. quill*

              I’m pretty sure that if the discount was on chocolate teapots for nonsmoking employees it also would not fly.

            2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

              The link to the federal regs in the main post explains this: there’s a difference in how a program is treated depending on if it asks certain questions or requires certain information. A program that doesn’t require medical information (like, they just ask if you smoke or not, and if you stopped smoking after the program) has different rules than one that does (say, they test you for nicotine and have you undergo a lung function exam). The LW’s employer’s program likely falls under the second category but is following the rules of the first one.

            3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

              A lot of people think overeating causes weight causes bad health outcomes, and it seems like that’s the model you’re accepting by comparing it to a behavior (smoking)(I am sympathetic to smokers, it’s hard to quit because tobacco companies are evil). That model is almost definitely false. There’s a lot of evidence against it or at a minimum in favor of it being WAY more complicated than that. Decent explanation here:

        1. Princess Xena*

          BMI perks for health-related items, like health and life insurance? Or BMI perks for office supplies? Because OP’s workplace is offering perks for consumer goods, not for health-related items.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            “Or BMI perks for office supplies?”
            Seriously. This is not about health insurance, health care, healthy living. This is about getting 50% off a shirt or travel mug.

          2. Warrior Princess Xena*

            Edit: should have added that from OP’s description the products offered are consumer goods. I’m assuming that the company’s products being offered are not life insurance or health insurance, which seems to be the case from the way OP, Alison, and Donna above have described it.

        2. Lora*

          What field do you work in? Curious because no company I have ever worked for has done such a thing – but I work for pharma, where dozens upon dozens of *actual biochemists and metabolic disease researchers* would have rebelled en masse, loudly, against such nonsense if they’d tried it. A few places I’ve worked offered premium reductions for not smoking, but for the most part you just get insurance normally. As far as “keeping our workforce healthy” initiatives, we had:
          -Reimbursement for sports equipment up to some maximum allowance. I used mine to pay for dance classes.
          -Discounted gym memberships to a local gym, or an on-site gym of some kind. These varied from “we got a couple of treadmills in part of the warehouse” (smallish company ~200 employees) to a complete gym with personal trainers who would custom-design a workout and diet plan if you wanted one (~50,000 employees, several thousand at that particular site).
          -Discounted healthy snacks from cafeterias, if it was a company where you had to pay for the cafeteria. These were usually cheese and crackers, veggie sticks and hummus, nuts.
          -In companies that had free food in the cafeteria, the food was generally of the “lots of healthy veggies, side salad instead of fries” type with no real desserts. Lunch menus tended to rotate sushi, Snacks were fruit, nuts, granola, tea and coffee, the occasional sports drinks but no sodas.
          -One place I worked for that had a company store gave discounts for OTC stuff from their OTC and “home goods” division, but I heard that was stopped when they had a takeover by another company. The OTC stuff they made was vitamins, skin care stuff, all those herbal supplements, and they owned some food brands at that point so you could also buy things like instant soup and pet food at the little store.

        3. June*

          I don’t see it as outrageous. There are company perks for not smoking. Obesity is linked to virtually every serious health problem there is, including most types of cancer.

          1. Kella*

            “Linked” is not the same thing as “caused by”. Many health issues result in weight gain but cannot be treated by weight loss. You can lose weight by cutting off an arm. Or by not eating for a week. That doesn’t make you healthier. Being underweight is also similarly linked to serious health problems, often moreso, but you don’t see anyone restricting benefits to people who are “too skinny”. You can also choose to stop smoking whereas it is not possible to choose what a healthy weight is for you, nor is it always possible to attain your “ideal” weight.

            If improvement in health is what you’re measuring, actually measure that, rather than a number on a scale that may or may not have anything to do with your current state of health.

            And lastly, you’re assuming that BMI is at all an effective tool for determining whether someone is a healthy weight. It’s absolutely useless at that purpose, as evidenced by dozens of comments under this post.

            1. The Witch in the Woods*

              Many overweight people delay care due to anti-fat bias. Their doctor sees a number and assumes everything thing is caused by weight, rather than treating them like a person. Why would someone seek medical help when providers dehumanizing them on a regular basis?

          2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            As Kella said, linked to does not mean causative. It is actually much more likely that health issues in the body lead to weight gain to mitigate the effects of the health issue.
            Also, unless you can prove that there is a way to lose weight, then you’re punishing someone for something not within their control. You can’t prove that there’s a way to lose weight, because there isn’t one that is supported by science.
            Also, one of the reasons that weight leads to worse outcomes is that people are denied health care because of their weight,* and so your proposal of denying/making health care more expensive would lead to worse health, not better health. (*If you go to any fat-positive spaces, you will be absolutely regaled with stories about how doctors refused to treat fat people for all sorts of things and only told them to lose weight, which we’ve already established is not necessarily possible).
            So. what you’re proposing is discriminating against people for being less healthy in ways that are likely not at all under their control.

            1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

              Oops, forgot to mention–amount of exercise is more indicative of health outcomes than weight is.

              1. Ayla*

                This is why I appreciate the program my husband’s work offers. We get a discount on our premiums based on points that are earned by things like exercise (10 points per verified workout, 1 point per 1000 steps walked each day, etc.) and taking online courses in nutrition, stress management, etc. There’s a wide enough variety of options that most people have some way to earn points, and it focuses on the things that data shows really make a difference.

          3. MigraineMonth*

            It goes the other direction, too. I gained weight over the last couple of years because of a very large tumor. No change to diet or exercise would have helped me lose that weight.

          4. Belle of the Midwest*

            The measure they are using is extremely flawed. You can have a lot of muscle and lower body fat and according to BMI you are overweight/obese.

          5. Nesprin*

            That’s actually much less simple than you’d think (am a cancer researcher).
            Development of some cancers is increased if you are in the obese categories, but being overweight (not obese) is not particularly well connected to development of cancer, but survival with cancer & efficacy of a number of therapies are significantly better if you are overweight than not overweight or underweight.
            And quite frankly the link between even cardiac disease and weight is less good than has been sold for many years- obesity and a sedentary lifestyle and metabolic syndrome are often linked, and while the latter predict poor outcomes, obesity itself is a pretty piss poor predictor.

            But even more fundamentally, we as a society have decided that advanced age (one of the strongest risk factors for cancer) and family history (very strong predictor for some cancers) are not reasons to charge someone more for healthcare. I’d argue that weight, especially in the context of disability, should also be on that list.

          6. Lydia*

            I recommend a lesson in causality and I think you might be a person who has a bias against people you decide are fat.

          7. Chris*

            No, there is not a single health condition that occurs in fat people that does not also occur in thin people. Weight is symptom, not a necessarily a cause. The science pointing to negative health outcomes for smoking is far, far more clear than weight.

          8. ADHSquirrelWhat*

            so hey, the time I was sick because I couldn’t actually eat and lost a bunch of weight, that meant I was healthier than when I quit the job that was exposing me to problems and got the weight back?

            I even had a doctor tell me that subsisting on meal replacement shakes was “fine” and I didn’t need help. When I was crying in the office because I was starving. but hey, I was thin!

            The way we treat weight and fat in our society is EVIL. It serves no useful purpose, punishes anyone that doesn’t fit a specific model, and has far more to do with classist stereotypes than actual science.

          9. Chirpy*

            Using BMI to quantify obesity is hugely problematic, though. The BMI chart doesn’t take into account incredibly normal things like muscle or breast tissue, so people with a large amount of either will fail no matter how healthy they actually are. Attempting to lose enough weight to counteract that will likely be incredibly unhealthy, if it even works. BMI says a person of my height should weigh a whole 20 lbs less than what is actually healthy for me personally, because it doesn’t take body type into consideration at all.

          10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            The only links that show obesity directly causes major illnesses come from massively discredited studies – where they’ve either cherry picked the subjects or had no simultaneous studies on the instances of those illnesses in thin people. Or no control group. Or a statistically insignificant sample size.

            And all have totally failed to show *what* is the link. The most I’ve ever found is some waffling about how increased number of fat cells (which is bogus Btw, fat people have the same number of cells, ours are just larger) somehow creates ‘toxin build up’.

            The science doesn’t support your assertion that fat causes disease.

          11. Me IDK*

            I’m a little late to this thread, but even if you account for incentivizing non-obese, this is a ridiculously low BMI cutoff. A “healthy” BMI is under 25, so there are overweight non-obese people not getting discounts, and even people IN THE HEALTHY RANGE not getting the same discounts. It’s an arbitrary cutoff for BMI health. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen anything that takes BMI as a measure of health that specifies any difference between people with lower vs. higher BMIs within the healthy range, just that if you’re in there you’re healthy.
            Never mind the fact that you can be healthy at higher BMI. I remember going to the doctor, she mentioned I had gained some weight and was about to ask about it when I mentioned the marathon I was training for. She asked about my workout schedule and told me not to worry about the weight gain because clearly I was still healthy.

    3. Purple Cat*

      A reduction in health-insurance premiums – maybe?
      To piggyback on the first post of today, 50% off lipstick for the skinny folks instead of 30% off for the fat folks. umm, no!

      1. Nikki*

        I hate the reduction in health insurance premiums too — it just makes healthcare even more expensive for chronically ill / disabled folks.

    4. Anonym*

      My company offers incentives (pretty small – $50-100) for *participating* in health related activities, and even that feels off to me in a way I have trouble articulating. But it’s like, did you see your primary care doctor this year, download this sleep health app, pick one of dozens of low key health challenges and self report your progress.

      Not this. I don’t deserve rewards for my BMI; it’s almost entirely genetic. This is bullsh!t.

      1. The Original K.*

        Ditto, and the categories are broad (going to a financial advisor counts), and you just have to say you went. You don’t have to disclose anything about the content of the appointments.

      2. londonedit*

        In the UK you can buy private health insurance (which basically means you can get quicker access to things like routine tests and procedures, and you can be treated in a posher hospital) and those companies offer incentives like that – so you might get a free Apple Watch for signing up, and then if you can demonstrate that you’re doing X number of workouts or whatever then you’ll get a discount on your premiums. But firstly that has nothing to do with work, and secondly it’s about an individual doing something low-stakes in order to get a small discount every month. And I don’t think it has anything to do with BMI.

      3. Oryx*

        This is what my company does, and for a long time losing weight was one of the activities you could earn points for. But enough of us spoke up and it was removed from the form last year or the year before.

      4. Ari*

        Mine does something similar. You earn points for watching videos about company benefits, scheduling annual visits, downloading certain apps, exercising, sleeping well, participating in daily activities (everything from eating more veggies to meditating), etc. I like it because some of it I’m doing anyway, and other things don’t take long to complete, plus none of it feels intrusive and there are a lot of options so everyone can find something to do to get the extra perk. We can use the points to get gift cards to Amazon or other places, up to around $550 per calendar year. So I’ve been using it to feed my Amazon habit. :)

        1. quill*

          I mean, the apps are potentially a problem, but at least they’re one of many options.

      5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yeah, because activities are not one size fits all.
        I can’t run, but I can bike. I can swim, I can’t lift. I play tennis, but you want me to do yoga. OK.
        Even if you are a marathon runner, you may be flat out busy with your life your life and can’t participate in what is essentially intramural sports. But someone with free time can participate in something outside of work hours and work place and be rewarded.
        Not a fair field with no favor.

      6. Nikki*

        My partner’s company does this and I hate it. It sets up a perception that taking care of your health is doing normal, “healthy” person things like riding a bike or eating a salad.

        I have trouble articulating why it bothers me, too. I think it’s because the demands of living with chronic health problems are *so* large and *so* invisible. Like, I attend doctor’s appointments 2-3 times a week and you can bet my health insurance isn’t giving me any rewards. The tasks that chronically ill people do — like keeping track of medications, eating a special diet, pacing themselves at everyday activities, proactively attending doctor’s appointments — aren’t viewed as “managing health” because there is no good health to maintain.

        It annoys me because I genuinely don’t have time to download a sleep app or add a doctor’s appointment. My chronic illness is already a part-time job… one that costs a lot of money.

    5. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      I used to work for a company that based your premium on a yearly health assessment. BMI was a part of that but you could score as poorly as possible in that category and still get a discount if your other scores were ok. They way theirs was set up was that being a nicotine user was 60% of your score. But even if you failed everything, you could do “wellness” activities to get your points back and still get the largest discount. And most of the activities were literally watching a PowerPoint so it was very easy to get the points needed.

      But this here is something else

    6. Meep*

      My dad has a teacher friend who wore two fitbits because her husband’s insurance premium was tied to steps. My mom worked for CVS Health (HR – distribution) for years and they also had health incentives over the years. Heck, even my elementary school had prizes if you walked a certain number of steps over a month. Just because it isn’t uncommon doesn’t mean we shouldn’t side eye extreme cases.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I wonder what is the highest frequency that will register on a fitbit? Attaching it to a fan blade and running it for a few minutes might do the trick.

        1. Metadata Janktress*

          I have to take off my Fitbit while knitting because it registers my movement as steps, for those who like crafting.

          1. JustAnotherKate*

            Oh, I enjoy the fake steps I get on my Apple Watch! (My fitness goals aren’t tied to number of steps, so I’m just amused that I suddenly have 30,000 steps while sitting on my ass.)

            1. Starbuck*

              Never have I understood why something designed to measure your whole body movement throughout the day would go on your wrist…. surely the ankle would be a better choice. Although with my restless foot-tapping and swinging I guess I’d still be getting “steps” while sitting down.

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                My guess is that something attached to the hip or waist, or just in the pants pocket, would be the way to go if one were serious about this. One of my classes when I was a kid for some reason had a stash of “pedometers.” They were essentially a mechanical version of the same thing, but the idea was you measured your average pace and used the widget to calculate how far you had walked. It hooked on the belt, likely making it more accurate than a fitbit. So why on the wrist? Just spitballing, but there is a long history of strapping a device to your wrist and it makes displaying the data easy. There also was a history of manufacturers trying to find some why to persuade consumer to buy smartwatches. Here they found an application people actually were willing to pay for. At that point who cares if the implementation makes sense?

              2. Lydia*

                I think it balances out. There are times you might be carrying something in the hand attached to the wrist with the FitBit and not get credit for those steps while the same day you might end up clapping or knitting (like JustAnotherKate) and get fake steps.

              3. Minimal Pear*

                Might look like an ankle monitor and therefore be bad for their brand image lol

              4. londonedit*

                I was drying my hair the other day and my Apple Watch asked me if I wanted to record a pool swim – I thought that was hilarious!

            2. All Het Up About It*

              My favorite miscount, was the week I was making a very long road trip in a vehicle with very bad suspension. Despite literally sitting in a vehicle for nearly 12 hours in a day, I’d reach my 10K step goals. It was amazing. :)

          2. Mockingdragon*

            And on the other side, it has no idea what yoga is and registered me as not exercising on intense yoga class days LOL at least the cheapest model

            I sort of liked that about it, in that the fitbit being so flawed helped me remember that it was only designed to know one thing, and was not the be-all end-all. I also really liked waking up in the morning to see 7-800 calories burnt and the reminder that breathing and keeping your heart beating require fuel. But I wasn’t exactly racing to get another when mine stopped holding a charge.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          We had a couple people in a work step contest averaging 80k steps a day for four weeks. (My record, personally, is 50k steps in one day, and that was a day where I woke up at 2am, did a half marathon, and then spent the rest of the day tooling around three Disney parks until 10pm.) They were lab staff, so we were pretty sure that they just threw their Fitbits into an agitator for a couple hours or something.

          1. Snarky McSnarkerson*

            Please tell me that’s a typo! 80k to me says 80,000 steps. Unless I’m misunderstanding the small k versus a capital K. I thought it was 10,000 steps a day!

            1. JustaTech*

              The goal (which I think is based on some random Japanese ad campaign form decades ago) is 10,000. On lab days I might make 10,000, if I go for a walk in the evening. During the half-marathon training season I regularly break 15K on training days. I think my most ever was the day I did a half marathon, took the bus back from the finish line and ended up going to an art museum before flying home (and walking through 2 airports) – and I think that was about 36K.

              The most I’ve ever done on a non-running day was the time I went to Versailles, about 25K – that place is huge!

              80K sounds like someone put their fitbit in a paint shaker. (The time mine went through the washer it got about 5,000 steps.)

          2. Third or Nothing!*

            I hit 50k steps when I do a 15 mile day. My legs are short so it takes me more steps to reach a mile than it does taller people.

          3. Nesprin*

            By my calculation 80k in 8 hrs is exactly the frequency of my bacteriological shaker (160rpm).

        3. quill*

          I know fitbits are not excellent at “floors climbed” but I bet if you strapped one to the dog and let it run, you could also get results.

          1. Captain Swan*

            There are fitness trackers for dogs, so I am betting you could strap a Fitbit to one and get results.

            1. quill*

              You want a *young* dog to game a fitbit. The last two years of his life my dog would only have registered a 100% sleep score and some yard wandering.

              1. Lydia*


                “Congratulations! You have reached your goal of 100 Plants Sniffed!”

              2. nonegiven*

                There’s a TV ad where they show a fitbit attached to a dog’s wagging tail while the owner read on a park bench.

                1. quill*

                  Love it, also we always joked that my childhood dog could be hooked up to a generator and wag-power our whole house.

          2. JustaTech*

            When I had a fitbit that counted floors (an older one) I noticed that every Monday I was getting like 10 flights of stairs in the mornings. But on Monday mornings I only walked between two labs on the same floor, so it made no sense until I learned that the “stairs climbed” was measured by changes in air pressure, and the difference in air pressure between the two labs and the hallway was enough to “count” as a flight of stairs.

          1. Minimal Pear*

            A quick search/my recollections from people talking about it a while ago say that it works with a manual wheelchair if you are self-propelling–the motion of pushing yourself forward registers.

    7. kittymommy*

      We have something similar-ish, but different. Ours is tied to health insurance and gives a discount. It’s also not tied to any result matrix, just get an annual physical and bloodwork (numbers don’t mean anything) and either participate in some sort of “activity” (this could be an actual physical activity like watching you steps or even just doing a couple of webinars).

      1. pancakes*

        I would be surprised if the numbers didn’t mean anything to the insurance company. It’s very much a for-profit industry and I doubt they invest in gathering data they have no intention of using for anything.

        1. kittymommy*

          Well the numbers don’t mean anything with regards to the discount as everyone who has complied with the protocol automatically receives it.

  6. Murphy*

    Ugh. I hate all of this. (I hate BMI as well, but that’s a whole different thing.) I definitely wouldn’t want my employer considering my body like this. Gross.

  7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    The only way I’d ever get a non obese BMI these days is by cutting limbs off. I’m disabled and on medications that make it impossible to lose weight.

    Had a manager from hell who actually put ‘lose weight’ as a performance improvement plan for me. In his eyes being obese = making my health worse = more time off = less value to the company and therefore if I was a ‘healthy’ weight I’d get more work done. HR agreed and gave me weight watchers leaflets.

    I wish I’d had a legal expert to talk to back then. I just did a lot of crying. And resigned.

    My weight doesn’t affect my worth.

            1. Lady_Lessa*

              I’ll supply some fast curing epoxy so that they can’t run. (One place I worked had one that was designed to stop leaking pipes. It cured fast and hot)

    1. EBStarr*

      Wow, I’d drafted a comment saying the discount program is one of the grossest things I’ve ever read about on this site… and then I read this. I’m so sorry this happened to you. That is abhorrent.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Yiiiikes, and I feel for you. I had a boss who marked me off on both “professionalism” and “appropriate dress” on a performance review because he said my body made any clothes I wore look sloppy and shabby, and I thought that was bad enough- he never actually tried to PIP me on it. I was lucky enough that he was universally terrible and was ushered out before long (it was short-chair boss from a previous post).

    3. Dr. Doll*

      Oh dear god, we don’t usually get candidates for Worst Boss of the Year (Decade?) from the comments. And here we have two of them, although I think Keymaster’s is ever so slightly more awful than Lab Boss’s. So sorry, you two.

        1. quill*

          Unsure if I hate this idea in case the 2020’s get more ideas, or if I love retroacively deciding worst boss of the teens.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          HR and him put the whole thing forward as ‘your health problems cause you to miss a lot of days off work’ (which, ok, they do) and ‘we need to improve that’. The ‘fat is not healthy’ stuff came along shortly after.

          It’s been almost a decade since I left that place and at least it’s given me a good metric as to what I consider ‘bad management’ to judge all subsequent employers on. Also I’d probably not cry these days: I’d get angry instead.

    4. Caroline Bowman*


      I can’t bear to think of some asshat cockwomble feeling so entitled to do something like that and THEN HR AGREEING!!

      Making someone cry because of how they happen to be constructed is beyond gross.

    5. Rose*

      WOW. I’m fucking FURIOUS on your behalf.

      I have a straight size women in my 30s and I’m very unhealthy. People casually refer to me as “young and healthy” all the time, with zero idea what my health is actually like.

      Reading this kind of letter always makes me feel super shitty about myself. I didn’t willingly choose to be unhealthy, but there’s this constant moral judgment around it, usually from people who assume you’re plus size. As much as it feels shitty for me, to my face people are mostly kind. I get tons of unsolicited medical advice from people who have no idea what they’re talking about, but it doesn’t come from a place of thinking everything is all my fault and so I deserve what I get.

      I can’t even imagine how extra shitty I would feel if people were acting like my poor health was a moral failing to my face (vs just in print when they’re assuming I’m bigger?). It’s so disgusting. Society does its best to gaslight plus size people into thinking this shit is in their heads. It’s NOT. As a small unhealthy person I see that so clearly every day. When you’re straight size the judgment isn’t the same. But when you are judged, it can feel like a gut punch. Imagine if we treated cancer patients this way. It’s unfathomable to me that people act like “(I’m assuming) you’re unhealthy” is somehow a valid reason to be an asshole to someone, and you’re expected to just pretend they don’t have fewer brain cells than you have BMI points.

      If this boss gave a single shit about your productivity he wouldn’t be doing his best to make you feel horrible and hate him. People can be so disgusting it’s unfathomable to me.

  8. Former Fruit Slinger*

    This sounds an awful lot like the large, multinational corporation I was employed with for years that has been doing this for well over a decade. I was always shocked that nobody ever questioned the legality of the practice and I hope this draws some attention to how awful it is.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP shared the name of the company with me and it is indeed a large, well-known company, which adds a new layer of WTF. (No speculating on which it is, please!)

      1. Hills to Die On*

        Ah, the secrets and dirt Alison must have on so many places. Not trying to get you to name drop – but gosh it must be nice to know who to trust and who to run from in that sense.

        1. fieldpoppy*

          Not speculating out loud, but a quick google turns up more than one company that does this. And it’s super distressing to me as a person who purchases things there.

        2. Sharkie*

          My thoughts exactly!! Alison you are awesome being able to not leak the name…. I wouldnt be able to not name drop to save people time!

      2. FattyMPH*

        I would bet money that more than one company fitting that description have similar programs in place.

        The friend I’ve referenced elsewhere in the comments here who was dealing with a similar situation last week works at a Big Well Known Hospital in a Big Well Known City.

        This BS is everywhere. And with the talking point that “covid is worse for fat people” it’s unfortunately only going to intensify.

      3. Grateful*

        Ah – I don’t know if it’s the same company, but I worked with a corporation that started this type of incentive in 2010. The only time I was able to receive the discount was in 2010. At the time, I was marathon training and was really thin. In 2011 I wanted to have a baby – the dr mentioned I needed to gain weight and quit all the cardio. I was able to get pregnant and have babies but my BMI got much higher. I worked there for 11 more years and never got my bmi low enough for the discount again.

        I’m embarrassed to admit that I never thought of this as public fat-shaming or discriminatory. It is and I wish I would’ve seen that and spoken out. Instead, I just kept trying and failing at getting my BMI low enough for a discount that would’ve really really helped my whole family out.

    2. Purple Cat*

      I really hope it’s the same place, because I can’t bear the thought of there being multiple companies that do this.
      Was your firm at least someway tied to the “health” space? Not that that really makes it any better, just grasping at straws.

    3. Salticus*

      It’s like they learned nothing from all of a certain 90’s clothing company’s many ‘discrimination-based-on -beauty’ lawsuits. As an aside, the documentary on the rise and fall of this company was really interesting and is on a soon to have adds streaming service.

  9. Tai*

    This sounds like a certain grocery store that costs a whole paycheck. I quit in 2014, but back then employees got a 20% discount on everything, but once a year there was an optional health screening (which took place right after the month long optional, but highly promoted, diet program) and if you met certain criteria you got up to a 30% discount. I took the screening one year, at 5’ 9’’ tall and 220ish lbs, my BMI was too high and I was disqualified for any extra discount, even though literally every other test result put me in the 30% discount range.
    It was frustrating, because I was healthy, but my body type is on the larger side.
    The month long diet beforehand had employees suddenly cutting ALL salt and oil from their diet, and avoiding animal products to the point of practically being vegan. I have nothing against people who choose veganism, but for the average person, its a massive change that will eliminate large portions of their regular food, so of course they will lose weight, at least temporarily.

    1. Former Fruit Slinger*

      Was hoping someone else would recognize what company this is, because I feel like without context one might assume this is just a single clueless small business owner.

      1. Tai*

        As a funny side note, I’m currently packing for a move and just found the ‘wellness report’ from this screening. That’s some great timing! Lol!
        That employer has always been a rather unique one, in both good and bad ways. And anyone who knows enough about the founder can see EXACTLY why both the diet and discount incentives exist.

      2. Also A Former Fruit Slinger*

        My name says it all, but I don’t recall this being a thing when I was there, until 2017. Maybe it’s new and/or specific to a certain product of theirs (not mentioning that product as it would be a dead giveaway).

      1. Tai*

        I would hope, but the LW does reference this as being a new job for her, so I don’t think it has changed. :-/

      2. pancakes*

        The buyer is known for making drivers pee in bottles, firing union organizers, etc., so I wouldn’t assume it changed for the better.

      3. flamingle*

        I worked there as recently as 2019 (after the change in ownership) and this program was still running. Eek!

    2. Yvette*

      I wholly agree with you, food for thought. If the company was that interested in promoting well being and healthy choices, than why not simply offer a greater discount on the healthier choices of products? So fresh fruits and veggies get a greater discount than canned, food items such as salt, butter, cream and sugar only eligible for the regular discount, etc.
      If it is the same place, and agian I wholly think that is the case, they have been doing it since 2010. Perhaps the fact that it is optional keeps it from being illegal?

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        Segue, but canned food can be extremely healthy, and fresh food can be not-so-much.

        I do take the point though!

        1. Rose*

          Yes!! Agree on the point of canned food being demonized (beans, tuna, etc are great healthy staples), but how about just not applying the discount to chips and candy etc? Or I’d that’s too hard to parse, giving a huge discount on everything in the “cold” sections (veggies, meat, fish, dairy) where basically everything is unprocessed, and a modest discount elsewhere?

          If I got a huge discount at whole foods for everything but junk food, I would never buy junk food. Going to another store would be more trouble than it was worth, but I’m not paying $6 for organic tortilla chips no matter how bad I want them. Its the perfect health plan honestly.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      On the plus side, you can get a 30% discount simply by shopping elsewhere.

      1. Yvette*

        OMG YES!!! When I was in there several years ago, lemons were 80 cents each, at the grocery store (also a major chain) acrss the street, they were 50 cents each.

    4. luxurylime*

      It ABSOLUTELY is the company you’re thinking of – I’ve worked there since 2018 and this program is still in place. I’ve always thought it was a load of crap. The founder of the company fully believes that fatness is a moral failing, blah blah etc. Don’t get me started on how they value mental health (newsflash: they do not care, quelle surprise).

      BMI isn’t the only factor that’s taken into consideration – nicotine use, blood pressure, and cholesterol level count as well. I could qualify for a higher discount on all the other factors, but that tricky BMI!

      1. Lydia*

        It makes me happy to know this HUGE company owned by an even bigger company might be doing something so blatantly illegal, it would get them in a lot of trouble. I know I might be tempted to call a reporter and drop a bug in their ear.

    5. Anonazon*

      Can confirm worked there for years, though at some point they moved the free screenings to every other other year though you could get your own done yearly. Almost nobody had the 30% discount though a few had 22-27%. I didn’t bother to get tested because it seemed shady and management couldn’t articulate how my health information would be held/used. Oh

  10. Former Gifted Kid*

    I don’t know whether it would be worth pointing out in this scenario, but BMI is especially inaccurate for black women. The BMI was developed by measuring which men in Belgium (I think, I could have the country wrong). I’ll link an NIH study below that compares BMI of white, Hispanic, and black women and their actual percent body fat. Black women tend to have less body fat per BMI. This program, if it only looks at BMI, could also be racist.

    1. Nanani*

      Oh it’s quite well known (to anyone who googles ) that BMI is racist woo.
      Seriously, google the history of BMI fellow commenters.

    2. Zephy*

      I’m glad someone pointed this out. It’s racist AND sexist; they just reduced all the numbers for men by some percentage to get the numbers for women, and as you say, measured only white men to begin with. Similar to how there are no female drivers among crash test dummies; when the auto manufacturers do their crash safety tests, they just put a slightly smaller but still male-shaped dummy in the passenger seat. If you’ve got a feminine body and have ever lamented that your car seems like it wasn’t designed to be operated by a person with comparatively short limbs and breasts, it’s because it wasn’t.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I knew about the crash test dummies – I believe that there is ne manufacturer who finally, less than 10 years ago, started testing with female dummies as well, because the lack of them isn’t just about comfort, it also means we are not as safe as men if we are in a car and there’s an accident .
        Until I pointed it out, none of my mal e business partners were aware that most office furniture is designed for the average man and because of this is it actually more likely that female employees will need (for example) office chairs with a wider range of adjustment options. (It was in the context of a conversation about an employee having requested a different chair, which we had provided, because of course you need people to be comfortable, but they were not aware that there are actual, ingrained reasons why our male employees are less likely to need to make that type of request.

    3. quill*

      Also of note it was developed during a time where childhood diseases, infectious diseases, and poor nutrition ran pretty rampant. There’s no reason to assume that a Belgian man from 1850 with an “average” BMI for that time was more healthy than an “overweight” black woman who has had modern vaccinations, a variety of nutritious food available her whole life, and has access to over the counter medicines that aren’t just opium dissolved in alcohol.

    4. Rose*

      If anyone is interested in learning more about this, the podcast Maintenance Phase has a great, well researched episode about BMI, and is hilarious. It doesn’t work well for any groups but it is extra meaningless for Black people.

  11. HMS Cupcake*

    Not that I don’t think this is gross, but how is this different from incentives that are given to non-smokers over smokers? I don’t recall the specifics, but I think there was some wellness incentive tied to non-smoking at my last employer. Not sure if it was directly related to the health insurance or not.

    1. Nanani*

      Smoking is actually, provably, bad.
      BMI is a fake metric made up for racist and eugenic reasons that actually doesn’t convey what people pretend it does.
      It’s different because the two are nothing alike, and plus LW’s situation is explicitly not about health insurance.

      1. it's just the frame of mind*

        And, even though addiction is a real, very difficult thing to deal with, presumably most people do have the ability to quite smoking, and they would be healthier if they did so. Some people do have the ability to lose weight and some of those people might be healthier if they did so, but a great many people either don’t have the ability to lose weight at all, or if they did lose weight they would be less healthy.

        1. it's just the frame of mind*

          Although I should add, I’m not defending incentives given to nonsmokers or quitters. I don’t think they’re good especially in the context of employment. There’s reasons to quit smoking and “to avoid punishment” I don’t think is one. But such incentives just make make more logical sense because quitting is a good and healthy thing to do whereas losing weight may or may not be.

          1. Nanani*

            Yes, this is a very good point.
            Giving people addiction resources to help them quit something that is objectively bad is very different from shaming people into losing weight, which may not be possible and may not be good for them at all.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I wasn’t able to quit smoking until OldExjob offered an insurance incentive for Chantix. That’s the only thing that worked.

        2. Dino*

          For those of us with serious mental illnesses, smoking is both more prevalent and harder to quit. We aren’t prescribed smoking cessation medications that actually work (Chantix) and even if we do quit, the rate of relapse after one year is shockingly high.

          None of my doctors pressure me to quit smoking. They’re just happy I’m not dead yet and my mental health medications are working.

          1. pancakes*

            I’m glad that your doctors aren’t pressuring you, but I want to point out that Chantix has a number of contraindications and that’s almost certainly why it isn’t prescribed to people with certain mental illnesses. It isn’t prescribed to people with angina either, for example, because of the contraindications. It’s isn’t that doctors don’t want people with angina to quit smoking; it’s that the side effects of this particular medication could be dangerous for them.

            1. Dino*

              Yes, I understand that. Obviously. But it adds a complication and workplaces shouldn’t be in the business of telling people what to do with their bodies, even if it come from “a good place” or about an “obviously bad for one’s health” topic. No one knows what anyone is struggling with and no workplace incentive or hypothetical health improvement is worth opening that can of worms.

              1. Lydia*

                It’s this all the way. Smoking has always been about being morally good or bad. The health effects of smoking just gave moralizers something they could point to. The same with being overweight. If you separate the morality of smoking or being overweight, even if you’re still banging on about health, doctors and the public would approach it differently than they do now.

          2. it's just the frame of mind*

            Oh, yes, that’s a very good point. We undercut the importance of mental health. Your lungs may get less smoky when you quit, but if your mental health gets worse — which would be enough on it’s own, but can then also have major impacts on what we differentiate by calling it “physical” health — then your health may get worse overall from quitting.

            1. Dino*

              Exactly. I’ve tried to quit many, many times. Tried patches, gum, support groups, bupropion, etc etc. Each time it caused a cascading negative effect on my mental health and ability to function. Do I wish I never started smoking? Of course. But I can’t blame 14 year old Dino in crisis without access to mental health care for making poor decisions. I didn’t think I’d live to see my 18th birthday, so I definitely wasn’t worried about developing COPD in my later years.

              I’ve worked too hard and fought too many demons to even be here typing this is the first place, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to risk that progress so my employer can save a few bucks. I hope to quit someday, but for now I’m just happy I’m still here.

      2. FattyMPH*

        This is a great question and Nanani is right — simply put, body size is not behavior. The best available evidence suggests that attempts at intentional weight loss result in increased weight gain about 90% of the time. Dieting is a risk factor for eating disorders. Weight cycling and anti-fat discrimination account for most of the health “risks” typically attributed to “obesity.” And, as OP highlighted, weight gain can be a side effect of having other health conditions treated — being fat can actually be a sign that someone is actually in the best health they can possibly be in. So many conditions that can be fatal are now treatable, and weight gain can be a side effect of treatment — whether that’s antibiotics for repeat strep infections in childhood or antidepressants to treat suicidal ideation or any of a million other things. You cannot tell someone’s health status by looking at them — only how much bias you have yet to unpack!

        Hope this helps.

        1. Esmae*

          I just want to highlight this:

          The best available evidence suggests that attempts at intentional weight loss result in increased weight gain about 90% of the time.

          If someone’s BMI is too high to qualify for perks, it’s extremely unlikely that they’re going to be able to change that. Even if they succeed in losing enough weight, most likely they’ll gain all of it back and then some. BMI isn’t a reliable indicator of health, but even if it were, plans like this are still punishing people for something they probably can’t change.

        2. Nanani*

          Very well said!
          There’s also the thing where doctors will dismiss symptoms as being weight related – lose weight and you’ll feel better sort of nonsense – when in fact the symptom was not only something that would be harmful at any weight (e.g., a tumour) and also prevented weight loss because you can’t really take up jogging with a torn ligament or whatever!

          Anti-fat bias leads to more people being written off and in worse health.

    2. EPLawyer*

      1. Tied to health. Smoking is definitely about health.
      2. Not everyone who is “fat” is unhealth. Everyone who smokes is affecting their health.
      3. Smoking is something you have control over. You might become addicted to the nicotine but you can kick the addiction. You have no control over genetics which has a LOT to do with your body size.

      Just BMI is gross. This isn’t even good for thin people. What are thin people supposed to do? Get even thinner?

      1. Velomont*

        Another thing is that smoking also affects people other than the smoker him/herself. I had a boss who used to rant about smokers whose clothes would “off-gas” in elevators and such.

      2. NeedRain47*

        “Just quit smoking” is about the same level of realistic as “just eat less” for dieting advice. Sure, that’s the idea, but it’s not actually easy.

        1. Nanani*

          But quitting smoking is something people can actually do. They may need help doing it, but it is a thing they can do. Some people have large bodies that will NEVER be below a certain BMI no matter what, because genetics and because BMI is a garbage tool developed in a racist and sexist manner.
          It’s like applies and shredded office paper.

          1. Lydia*

            The number of people relapse is between 5% and 17%, which is a pretty large variance. Nobody ever quits because they can “just do it.” They quit when they’re ready and when they have the necessary supports in place, and even then there will probably be relapses. Smoking also has a correlation to class and mental health. In other words, if anyone has ever said to you to “just do X” and you have immediately known it’s not that simple, then apply that to quitting smoking.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              All this. Nicotine is a substance that is REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY addictive. And research points to other substances produced by burning tobacco, as well as additives, that may contribute to that. Besides the physical dependence, there’s a psychological component too, based around the physical act and ritual of smoking.

              I could tell you stories. About smoking butts from ashtrays, digging change out of the sofa, picking up change from the ground, hitting up people for $5 so I could get a pack, and if anyone offered me a smoke, I took it. And even with all that, I STILL didn’t want to quit. I liked it. It made me feel good.

              I had to wait until I didn’t like it anymore before I could do it. And then I had to get medical help to do it. It’s difficult, and for some people, the effort is not worth it. This is why I will ask you to smoke outside, and I won’t date a smoker (because I do not want to relapse!), but I will not tell you flat out to stop if I know that’s the only thing holding you together.

              1. pancakes*

                Not the main point and I know it’s a complex and very powerful dependence, but what worked for me when I wanted to quit was to help myself not want it anymore. I gradually cut back, and when I got down to five a day, then three a day, etc., and stayed there for a week or a time or so, it really helped emphasize the foolishness of the habit, if that makes sense. When you are counting down like that there’s a limit to how much you can bullshit yourself that it’s a pleasure, or that giving it up won’t feel like being free of something, it’ll be a burden. It really does feel like being free of something lousy when you can abandon that silly little counting down regime. But yes, you have to want to quit to start that process in the first place.

        2. nonegiven*

          I quit before Chantix. My doctor prescribed the patch, which wasn’t OTC at the time, doubled my antidepressant dose, and added a minor tranquilizer 3 times a day to keep me from strangling anybody with my bare hands.

    3. Anonym*

      I’d say, to start, BMI is both a bad correlate for actual individual health and is largely genetic, whereas smoking is a behavior with strong correlates for health outcomes (I’m not at ease with the non-smoking incentives either, especially given the addiction component, but I think this is a pretty big difference, and there are probably other differences as well).

      1. Rose*

        Predisposition to addiction and mental illnesses whose symptoms are lessened by nicotine are actually very much geneticist

    4. C*

      I was making that comparison in my head, too. Looking at the lists from Donna, anti-smoking-incentives would be easier to provide data that the plan is “reasonably designed to promote health or prevent disease.” The amount of data on the dangers of smoking would also be easier to provide information on risk factors. And also, a random cashier wouldn’t be aware of your health status based on your discount – it would be much more confidential.

    5. Bagpuss*

      In addition to the other points made, while giving up smoking is extremely difficult for many people, *starting* to smoke is a choice and for anyone under the age of 60, a choice made knowing that it has significant risks. It’s a behaviour whereas w while weight and BMI can be affected up to a point by behaviors, you don’t choose your body shape, type, other health conditions etc.

      1. Lord Bravery*

        Exactly; addiction is hard and those struggling to quit deserve sympathy and cheering on, but intentionally starting to smoke is a choice people make despite knowing that it’s addictive and harmful. That doesn’t mean ‘punish them’, but it’s at least the direct result of a boneheaded decision.

        Weight is so much more dependent on genetics and circumstances than on choices that rewarding the thin makes no sense even aside from all the stigma and discrimination fat people have to deal with.

        1. Lydia*

          Smoking has a lot to do with class, so maybe let’s not be so quick to jump on the “you know what you’re getting into” band wagon. Cigarette companies know who their customers are and they make a point of targeting those people. Most of them are in low-income neighborhoods. Being understanding of fat people while bashing on smokers is classist. As fat-activism becomes more successful in pushing back on being the world’s moral punching bag, we all seem to have decided smokers are a safe bet. It’s still not okay.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          To be fair*, no one ever thinks they’ll get addicted to anything. I never thought I’d end up a nicotine addict.

          *(to be fairrrrr)

  12. Bea*

    Does anyone have thoughts on how this may apply to employer health insurance topics? My employer gives significant insurance discounts to those who meet certain “health metrics”, including BMI.

    1. Alex*

      Same here. We also got 1k for getting vaccinated, and we pay hundreds of dollars less for insurance if we don’t smoke

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        The tobacco penalty for insurance hits non-smoking users, too. I’ve enjoyed tobacco for over 50 years, and based on family history, see no reason not to enjoy it for at least 30 more.

        But that’s not going to change the policies, so I just pay the difference.

  13. Purple Cat*

    What the actual F??
    This is awful and I hope you’re successful in pushing back on it.

    1. Yvette*

      If it is the company we all think it is, apparently they have been doing it since 2010.

  14. Michelle Smith*

    I am fat. My BMI has fluctuated between 43 and 53 for the better part of the past decade. At my healthiest mentally and physically, that means I was still classified as obese under the BMI chart. There is significant evidence that BMI is a deeply flawed and even racist tool that does not approximate health. I would literally have to starve myself for months to get within the range BMI suggests I should be in for my height (and I know, because I did starve myself when I was younger–it caused permanent damage to my body and a lifelong eating disorder that I struggle with to this day). This makes me literally furious. I have no actionable advice, but Alison’s got that covered. I just wanted to express my genuine blood-curdling outrage at your employer and also extend my support to OP. They should not be experiencing this kind of nonsense.

  15. rage criers unite*

    i hate this on so many levels

    my BMI was “normal” only when i was going through chemo and couldn’t eat anything… when I was the sickest i’ve ever been – finally a good BMI *ick*

  16. socks*

    I’d argue this can’t even pretend to be about “promoting health” if there’s no lower BMI cutoff. Malnourishment is much more immediately dangerous than obesity.

    Now, of course you can’t actually tell if someone is eating “too little” based on their BMI any more than you can tell that someone’s eating “too much,” and also this is a terrible system for a million other reasons, but focusing on fatness to the exclusion of everything else is a clear tell it isn’t about health at all.

  17. Alex*

    Every company I worked at offered BMI perks. If you didn’t meet the BMI you could show improvement (either 5 or 10%, can’t remember which one) and still qualify to win. Didn’t realize that was illegal. In fact i am in process of applying for another job and I was sent their benefits package and it outlined BMI related perks

  18. Popinki(she/her)*

    I had to reread the letter to catch it (because at first I was too gobsmacked by the company’s public fat-shaming to notice) but BMI is only ONE of the deciding factors. Does that mean they’re also excluding people because of things like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses? Not every thin person is in perfect health, and not every overweight person is unhealthy.

    I have a large frame, big bones, and even when I was thin I had pooches. If I starved myself and ran a marathon every day I’d never be able to get the same discounts as my tiny, bird-boned coworker (her ankles are the size of my wrists, maybe smaller) even though we are equal in rank and seniority.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I wondered about that.
      I have a bunch of health issues – some due to having drawn the genetic short straw and some due to bad luck that the relatively minor accident I was in at 25 caused permanent injury and left me with chronic pain and a few other long term issues.
      There are a whole range of ‘healthy’ activities (including a lot of types of exercise) which would actually be harmful to me if I were daft enough to try them, and even for those I can do I have to be very careful about balancing the benefits in terms of fitness and mental health against the downside of using my limited stocks of energy in that way, so even things that reward (say) increasing your activity levels by 5% could very well do me more harm than good.
      I’m actually fitter and healthier at the moment than I have been for a long time, but that involves very small increments over 3 years and with input from my doctor , I suspect that the things I changed would all be too small and too slow to register with this type of program

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      While I get your point, I feel like we uphold the Good Fat Person as an example too often.

      I’m fat, I have high cholesterol, and I have pre-diabetes. Do I not deserve the same perks at work as my thinner colleagues?

      It’s so much related to genetics and luck. I was a 3 sport athlete in high school, and exercised 2 hrs/day. I was always larger. I currently workout 4-6 days/wk, and eat tons of vegetables. I barely drink. I don’t smoke. Yet, my weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar don’t change very much.

      I got diagnosed with PCOS in my 20s, which causes all of those metabolic symptoms. It also makes it harder to lose weight because of insulin resistance. People who are (naturally) thin didn’t do something that I didn’t, even though we like to pretend that’s the case. It’s all a genetic lottery.

      I deserve equal access to affordable healthcare, even if I got the crap end of the genetic lottery. I cannot help my genes! I should not be held to a higher standard of “healthy” behaviors as someone who is naturally thin, simply because of genes.

  19. NeedRain47*

    LW, I hope you have the time and mental energy to take this on but I understand if you don’t.
    I was relieved when I got to the “not connected to health insurance” part. My former employer had a system where you had to earn points toward a “discount” on your health insurance. Only it wasnt’ a discount, it was “your health insurance is going up $400/year if you don’t earn these points.” Given that my average annual raise was zero to two percent, this was particularly cruel. But at the time you only had to do a couple of things. I resented the physical where we were weighed, measured, tested and “counseled” by a nurse who has zero clue about your overall health history and doesn’t care if your cholesterol is genetically bad, you’re getting a lecture.

    I left that employer before they implemented the diet for points program, which teaches things that are (demonstrably, according to research) disordered eating. I would absolutely have tried to take on the administration on that one. I hope you can get your job to shut this down.

  20. Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein*

    I’m not gonna ask what your company’s products are, since we all enjoy employer anonymity here, but — how critical are their products to your life? It’s extra shitty if this is something like a clothing or cosmetics store that requires you to use their products.

    Which is not to say it isn’t shitty if that isn’t the case, because this is despicable regardless, but there’s an extra layer of horror if you’re more or less required to buy from them.

    1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      I am not OP but I do know which company they are likely at. Its less *critical* and more like … a true necessity that is much more convenient if you are getting it at work. Especially when an employee discount is part of your overall benefits package and company perks.

      Imagine working at a gas station that would give people a 20% discount on their gas if they were under a certain BMI. Not getting the discount and paying more than your coworkers or having to go to a different gas station to get your gas would feel a bit like salt in the wound, yeah?

  21. Hills to Die On*

    One more thing (can you tell I am not interested in my morning meeting?): I bought Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired 10 or so years ago and it was hugely helpful. I still have it.
    It’s one of those things that is just a fantastic reference and base of knowledge even if everything is going well at your job.
    Knowledge is power, y’all.

  22. Delta Delta*

    At one point in my life my BMI was “overweight” and I was also warned by my MD that I was “dangerously underweight.” So, yeah, pick one.

  23. BA*

    This is gross. All of it. And BMI is especially gross. And doesn’t actually measure “health.” I did some calculations years ago and found that some well known athletes, who are tall and muscular, and have body fat under 4%, are indeed obese per BMI. Following that realization, any mention of BMI and I shut down. The other negative parts of BMI are even more appalling… that was just what 22 year old me realized at the time.
    I hope the support you’re getting here, LW, is help to you… just know there are lots of us in your corner who are supporting you if you choose to raise a concern with your company.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Not only does BMI not measure health, there’s been research on other employer “health incentive” programs, and they don’t improve any health outcomes overall. They’re a massive waste of money and time.

    2. anonymous73*

      Yup. Think of someone like Dwayne Johnson. He’s a giant ball of muscle. He probably has a very low body fat percentage, but I’m imagining his BMI is high. If I lost enough weight to get to the height/weight chart nonsense, I’d literally have to starve myself.

      1. BA*

        I did a calculation once, and would have had to lose more weight than I did going through cancer treatment. Eek.

    3. SnappinTerrapin*

      Muscle is more dense than fat. The height/weight ratio would say that a muscular person has a higher BMI than a fatter person of the same height.

    4. Minimal Pear*

      My middle school math/history/tae kwon do teacher (small school) was very short and VERY muscular. He was also diabetic. He was an… interesting guy but I’m forever grateful that he told us a funny story about how every time he went to the doctor, the doctor would walk in, see him, and double-take. They saw his BMI and diabetes diagnosis and assumed they were going to be seeing someone VERY different. I’m so glad I learned how inaccurate BMI is so young, especially since at that point I was already shaped like an adult, at least in comparison to my classmates.

  24. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    OMG!! This is a recipe for (at least) disordered eating! How terrible! We have enough of that going around, we don’t need any more – thank you very much!

    I’ve just started listening to the podcast Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes. Fabulous! For those of us who are tired of dieting to meet other people’s or society’s expectations, this podcast touches on everything that is wrong with thinking that obese=unhealthy. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

  25. quill*

    “Employee Wellness” programs that only or disproportionately focus on weight: another gross square down on the annual AAM bingo card.

  26. FattyMPH*

    In addition to the employment law/disability issues specifically surrounding fatness that Alison and Donna covered, I just want to add that this kind of program is very damaging for people with eating disorders — another kind of disability that can occur regardless of body size and that have a very high mortality rate. Raising this point with a trusted colleague in the DEI office helped a friend of mine get a similarly yucky “workplace wellness” program focused specifically on weight loss shut down last week.

    I am really heartened both by Alison and Donna’s responses to this question and by the discussion here in the comments section. The world is very different than it was five or ten years ago and that makes me hopeful.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      Yep. This program would totally activate the “brain weasels,” as I like to call them, that love to scream at me that I don’t deserve to eat. I’ve finally reached the point where I eat almost as much as my 4 year old child, and that’s a huge victory for me. I have no desire whatsoever to regress and would be pissed off if my employer tried to implement something like this.

    2. Mischa*

      Absolutely. Thanks to my eating disorder, I have to jump through hoops every. single. year. to appeal the insurance increase for non-participation in my workplace’s weight loss incentive program. I actually have no idea how much I weigh or what my BMI even is…and I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.

      If these programs were truly about health and wellbeing, then employers would be answering entirely different questions. What do your benefits look like? Do you allow time off for people to truly rest and recharge? Do you allow time off for therapy appointments or other medical appointments? Are you a supportive workplace by respecting boundaries and fostering an inclusive work culture? Those things allow me to take care of my health. Shaming me to lose 20 pounds will not automatically make me “healthy.”

  27. Johanna Cabal*

    I was attending a workshop with a colleague many years ago. Another attendee praised my colleague for losing a significant amount of weight.

    Colleague was undergoing treatments for cancer. Less than two years later, colleague died.

    Wellness perks like this are terrible.

    1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      When I was in my early 20’s, I left my abusive partner and, on top of being emotionally destroyed, it left me in a deep financial black hole. I was eating brown rice and broccoli twice a day because its all I could afford. I lost a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time.

      One day I walked into one of my work locations, and a coworker immediately was like, “WOW, Kitten Party! You have lost weight! You look great!!” and his manager, who I only vaguely knew and definitely did not know what I was going through, immediately swiveled his head around and was like, “HEY. WE DON’T COMMENT ON PEOPLE’S BODY SHAPE OR SIZE. You might think its a compliment but you have no idea what is going on with someone’s health or personal life. Don’t do it.”

      I was so, so grateful to him.

  28. BritSouthAfricanAmericanHybrid*

    How awful! I am very active and walk/hike 7-10 miles almost every day but my BMI, although in the healthy range, is definitely not 23!

    And a very good friend of mine owns a Crossfit gym. She does not have an ounce of fat on her, but according to the old BMI standard of weight/height she is considered obese!

    I really hope you can fight back against this. We are all built so differently and I have several very thin friends who are massively unhealthy, but look great.

  29. SparklingBlue*

    Just when I thought I had seen everything in the realm of workplaces so awful that no one would ever believe it….

  30. going anon for this one*

    OP, This is disgusting. Good luck and check back in to let us know what happens.

  31. Cordelia Sasquatch*

    So, if someone becomes deathly ill and drops a dangerous amount of weight… they will be rewarded? But if they recover to full health, but require treatment that ultimately results in a higher BMI, they will be penalized? (A not uncommon trajectory for folks who are diagnosed with adult onset Type 1 [auto-immune] diabetes, for instance.)
    Under no scientifically supported rubric, is this health promoting. So the company is literally rewarding people based on their outward physical appearance. They need to be publicly dragged.

  32. Christmas Carol*

    Wasn’t there a letter once from a woman who failed to meet her company’s BMI target because she was 8 months pregnant, and did not get any consideration or exception?

  33. idwtpaun*

    Every time a story like this is posted on AAM, I am shocked and horrified all over again. It’s infuriating how many employers feel like they’re medieval liege lords, in charge of their employees’ “moral” care. On top of being fat-phobic, judgmental, discriminatory (thankfully, illegal, at least some places!), it’s inappropriate and intrusive. Gross.

  34. AMK*

    This is so gross. In addition to the giant list provided by Donna, I would think this could also lead to pregnancy discrimination. Although I would normally qualify for this myself (not at all due to my own effort, just genetics) but by the third trimester I would no longer qualify. I’d love to know what this company would do with that (not really because I’m sure it’s awful).

    1. Ashley*

      I actually think if you could have a pregnant women willing, they would make an excellent case for the discrimination qualification aspects. You shouldn’t have to go this route, but depending on the size of the company sometimes the right squeaky wheel is the easiest way to get change. A normal company a discussion with HR though a normal company HR wouldn’t let this happen.

      1. quill*

        Yeah, it’s possible that the less stigmatized a condition is (Yes there’s descrimination involved but it doesn’t track to society’s justifications for fat shaming as “for your own health!”) that runs afoul of the system, the easier it is to get the whole thing dismantled.

      2. Nanani*

        It would have to be a fairly powerful woman to actually get listened to without fearing that this will become an excuse to discriminate against her -for being pregnant- on top of everything else.
        But if someone in the right position wants to put Karen energy to good use, good for her.

  35. Sauron*

    Some of the fittest people I’ve ever known have BMIs that would disqualify them from these discounts. Not that that should be relevant, just an additional data point in the sea of data that shows BMI is a load of BS.

  36. cubone*

    related to the book not the question: Alison, is Donna’s book applicable for non-Americans as well?

  37. Ozzie*

    I hate this on every level, especially because I assume that those -under- a “healthy” BMI probably still get the discount because, well, they’re skinny so they must be healthy. Which, maybe! But that can apply to those who are over a “healthy” BMI! Almost like BMI is dumb and not an indication of health at all! Ahhhhh

    I’m sorry LW, you’re not wrong to have your feelings hurt by this. They’re being unfairly discriminatory. Not to mention poorly-informed and perpetuating fake medicine.

      1. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

        There is though. I thoroughly discriminate against racist/sexist/LGBTQIA phobic people.

        1. quill*

          Most actions people would take against them, including not letting their Freeze Peach take over shared spaces, or not allowing them to engage aggressively, are self defense.

    1. kiki*

      Yeah, BMI is bunk and should be wholly removed from assessments of individuals’ health, but I think it’s especially illustrative of anti-fat bias that so many programs like this only reward for having your BMI under a certain level, not actually even within what BMI gives as their “healthy range.” Being underweight can pose serious health risks and correlates with a variety of medical conditions. Also, the upper limit of 23 given by this company isn’t even as high as the “healthy” BMI range goes!

        1. Ozzie*

          Yeah I mean ultimately this is the key here. BMI is crap anyway, but also, none of it is a business’s business REGARDLESS.

  38. The Fat LW*

    Thanks to Alison for answering my question today, and for all the validation from commenters.

    I think what makes me so uncomfortable about this is that my body’s health metrics don’t make me a better or worse employee. While I’m actually pretty healthy in spite of my BMI (and I know BMI is a crap individual metric anyway), I don’t see what my bloodwork and number on the scale has to do with my performance. The other metrics measured are blood pressure and cholesterol. If my cholesterol is high, do I work less hard? Am I less valuable to the company? Do I deserve less compensation? If my health is textbook perfect, am I more deserving?

    I work really hard at my job and my coworkers and boss express appreciation for me all the time. I feel highly valued in that way. There’s a guy on my team who…well, isn’t the best employee. No one trusts him with the more complex stuff because he messes it up, he shows up late, etc. Just not a star employee. But as a young, thin guy, I’m sure he qualifies for the extra discount. This is where it seems like a real disconnect and like I’m being punished for having an “imperfect” body by my employer, and over something that is largely out of my control.

    I’m not sure yet how I’ll address this–I’m still new and don’t know the lay of the politics yet. But thanks all for your input.

    1. rage criers unite*

      ***”This is where it seems like a real disconnect and like I’m being punished for having an “imperfect” body by my employer, and over something that is largely out of my control.”***

      ^^ You are right to feel this way because this is wrong. Your worth as an employee should be based on how well you work and nothing else.

    2. Ashley*

      I would honestly be looking to change jobs because clearly I would not be a culture fit. But do they actually take healthy into account in practice? If they are judging you for your cholesterol are they providing healthy only food when they provide snacks and meals and giving you adequate work life balance so you have a shot of eating better (ie more time to eat then just hitting a drive thru)?

      1. pancakes*

        That wouldn’t change the screwy disconnect the LW identified. Even if the employer made a lavish, daily low-cholesterol buffet available to everyone, reduced stress, etc., someone’s cholesterol number isn’t a measure of the quality of their work.

    3. Jackie*

      Yeah, also this sounds a lot like it would end up being sex and maybe age discrimination since women have higher body fat and I’m guessing older people also tend to have higher BMI in general. Wouldn’t be surprised if there turned out to be a race angle too (I’ve heard Pacific Islanders tend to have higher BMI and it’s likely genetic). It’s just crazy. None of this has any bearing on your value as a worker.

    4. HannahS*

      I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head. While lots of people are making valid points about the metrics themselves, the truth is that your payment/benefits/bonuses shouldn’t have anything at all to do with your health, or their perception of your health, or anything like that. Even if they used awesome evidence-based metrics, even if they factored in what you can and can’t control, it would still be wrong.

  39. pancakes*

    “Not being eligible for any of the extra perks has really hurt my feelings and made me feel bad about myself.”

    Would it help to point out that if you should feel bad about anyone in this scenario, it should be your employer? They came up with this terrible idea, no one had the sense or power to stop it from being implemented, and it’s a mess. It’s poorly designed, harmful, and someone with expertise in this area has pointed out a number of reasons why it’s probably illegal and certainly a legal risk. You didn’t make any of those errors, and you shouldn’t feel bad about having been on the receiving end of them. You didn’t do anything wrong.

  40. cubone*

    this isn’t intended to be harsh, but I’d just like to draw attention to the comments that read along the lines of “[me/my friend/random person] is so fit/healthy and their BMI is considered obese!”, as a way of demonstrating how silly BMI is.

    BMI is undoubtedly really stupid, but this sort of thinking kind of reinforces the idea that BMI is a failure because it isn’t GOOD at judging “health” accurately. I don’t really think many of the comments do actually fall into this, but at worst, I’ve heard many times the “isn’t it ridiculous that my friend is considered FAT by the BMI when they’re so obviously not?!”

    Nobody owes anyone health or thinness (least of all their employer). BMI is stupid for a bajiliion reasons, but mislabelling “healthy” people as fat isn’t the worst one, or one we should be especially bothered by tbh. We should be bothered by the idea that we all should be striving and working against our genetics, environment, social status etc. to pursue personal “”health”” above all else.

    I hope this makes sense (and sorry I don’t have more time for a more in depth comment but wanted to get this out)

    1. Esmae*

      Thanks for this. BMI is trash! But the biggest problem here isn’t that some people will have a BMI that’s too high to get the perks without actually being fat.

      1. Oryx*

        Right, I think cubone knows that it isn’t the biggest problem with what the LW is dealing with. But when discussing *why* the BMI is trash it is important to define it without resorting to “my healthy not-fat friend is considered fat” because that argument is still framing being fat as a bad thing and also reinforces the false notion that you can’t be both fat and healthy.

        1. cubone*

          yes I meant to say this is a totally meta/not really the point comment (re: the letter). But I always appreciate the commenters here and find them (90% of the time) really thoughtful and it was something I thought might be worth pointing out, as it’s completely reasonable that people have never considered it like this before.

      2. Lizzianna*

        I disagree that it’s the biggest problem. In my opinion, the biggest problem is that an employer is inserting itself into a private relationship between a patient and a doctor, and perpetuating the very real discrimination that overweight and obese people have to deal with every day. It’s not an issue of using the wrong metrics to measure who is fat or unhealthy enough to justify exclusion, it’s the exclusion of fat or unhealthy people at all.

        “Some people who deserve to be rewarded for being “healthy” will be left out” still buys into the idea that an employer should be rewarding “health,” whatever that is.

        1. Lizzianna*

          Also, “healthy” isn’t a binary measurement. It’s not that you’re healthy or not – it’s a nuanced discussion that needs to be had with a medical professional. Any definition that can be boiled down into a series of metrics that can be used company-wide is going to miss that nuance. Am I really less healthy because I choose to be on a medication that helps me get out of bed in the morning, because it causes me to have a harder time losing weight? And is that trade off, that I’ve made in consultation with my doctor, any of my employer’s business?

          1. quill*

            Also “healthy” is only a thing that the employer is worried about because of our insurance structure tying insurance to employment. It isn’t about your value to the company, it’s about how many pennies they can shave off their insurance.

          2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            Yeah. I exercise more than some people I know, but exercising and continuing to not use alcohol or tobacco (because I don’t want either) isn’t going to make me healthy, because I have a freaking autoimmune disorder.

        2. Esmae*

          ISN’T the biggest problem! I should have capslocked that, it was important and easy to miss.

    2. Lizziana*

      Thanks for this. As a fat person, I feel like we often substitute “healthy” for “thin” in a way that is still somewhat fatphobic.

      I’m not fit. I couldn’t climb a mountain. My doctor would be thrilled if I could manage to lose 50 pounds. But she also understands that it’s complicated and some of the medication I’m on for mental health makes that challenging, and she’s able to treat me where I’m at.

      Those of us who are just straight up fat don’t need to justify our health and we still deserve dignity in the workplace.

      1. cubone*

        absolutely. While I do really think there’s so much more science to pursue to debunk some of the worst myths about size, for many purposes I also just…. don’t care? “Health” is such a weird concept and the idea that we are morally responsible for optimizing our personal health is stupid (and the definition of healthism), and as you said, it’s not that simple.

        I also should’ve added, I made this comment because I know I used to justify (ugh) my own size with “but my doctor says I’m healthy” etc and thought I was being a super great warrior against fatphobia by saying “people can be fat AND healthy you know”. And now I realize how much all of that is not helpful and utterly besides the point. Like you said, no one needs to justify their health to deserve dignity. Meeting arbitrary markers of some vague concept of health shouldn’t be a threshold to be treated like a person.

    3. The Fat LW*

      Yes, totally–I don’t think the exact problem is the problematic determination of what is healthy (and it is definitely problematic), but that “health” is being rewarded as though it is some sort of accomplishment for the employer rather than a private matter between an individual and one’s doctor, and one that has many complicated factors that make it what it is.

      1. cubone*

        yes, exactly! Have you ever heard of the term “healthism”? from a pubmed google: “healthism situates the problem of health and disease at the level of the individual. Solutions are formulated at that level as well. ”

        That was the first lightbulb for me, like “OH this way of thinking that being “healthy” is a moral good we each as individuals are responsible for” is not the only way of thinking about “health” (and as many have said, health isn’t a neutral binary)

        1. Minimal Pear*

          I recently read an amazing book called There Are No Accidents that is not really about the health angle of this, but is about “accidents” and how so often they are extremely predictable consequences of structural inequality, capitalism, etc.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        My boss from hell (posted up the page) honestly believed that ‘health’ was something you owed your employer and to society in general.

        I’m obese. My health is shockingly bad (mental and physical). But not a single one of those problems was caused by being fat. Or made worse by it.

        In fact my doctors know to not read my weight to me, nor even suggest diets because I nearly died at age 17 to anorexia. When even the bones were visible through my skin I still didn’t register as ‘underweight’. I am very lucky to finally have doctors who don’t tell me to lose weight for everything.

        Although they still won’t let me get a breast reduction (Have a spinal injury and a 40h chest. It. Hurts) because I’m too fat for the surgery. Despite the fact that not 3 days ago they operated on me for uterine pain….

    4. mf*

      YES, thank you. It doesn’t matter if BMI is a good metric or not. (It’s not, but let’s put that aside for a moment.)

      Everybody deserves to be treated equally, in a nondiscriminatory manner, by their employer. That includes unhealthy people, no matter how you define “unhealthy.”

    5. Third or Nothing!*

      YES!!!!!! I will never ever be “healthy” by any traditional definition of the word because I have several chronic illnesses that cannot be cured, only treated. No amount of diet and exercise or medication can fix my asthma, my thalassemia, or my PCOS. It can reduce the symptoms but it can’t cure the diseases. I’ve decided that all I can do is define what healthy means for me and do what I can to help myself feel as best as I can with what I’ve got.

    6. Koala dreams*

      Thank you!

      Those comments really have some unfortunate implications in this context.

  41. HelenofWhat*

    Aghhhh I hate this so much.
    In addition to the comments about how bad and discriminatory this is, I also want to point out that the “normal” BMI range tops out at 24.9, so this 23 limit cuts out a lot of people who meet the criteria for “normal”. And it also rewards people for “underweight” BMIs.
    Anyway, the BMI is trash, it was based on population data for white males only, weight is not a useful health metric on its own, and the BMI ranges have been changed over time so that people who were considered “normal” years ago would now be “overweight” or “obese” even if they are still the same weight. (For anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the BMI and also laugh because the hosts are hilarious, look up the Maintenance Phase podcast.)
    A metric that literally just compares 2 data points to white male population averages is not something that belongs at work at all.

    1. HelenofWhat*

      Also adding after seeing the OP’s comment about the other metrics – this program is overall terrible.
      If the company can afford to give a discount to employees, they should either get it across the board or as a reward for performance (though I am not sure that’s a great idea either depending on how objective performance metrics are).
      Tbh it would be personal for me: I have genetically high cholesterol, absolutely nothing I do short of medication (which I only recently was prescribed, yay) would get me down to a good level. In the years before now when I was unmedicated, I would not have qualified for this discount and that would have also made me upset. Even if I could just *magically* have made it lower, life isn’t simple and people shouldn’t have to be judged by employers or coworkers on personal health info that belongs solely in the doctor’s office.

  42. Doofus*

    When a benefit increases as weight goes down, how does that not promote eating disorders – the exact opposite of what a wellness program should do?

  43. ScruffyInternHerder*

    Exactly. I just squeaked into the “normal” BMI while having a seriously ghastly month long flare of something something gastro-irritable-beats-us-eh-your-stomach-is-a-jer.

    Needed iron infusions, but hey, at least my BMI was normal. (::eyeroll::)

  44. Former DLR CM*

    I used to work for the Disneyland Resort. Every year we would have to undergo health screenings (like, they built it into your schedule) and, if we met certain health levels (such as BMI, or a certain cholestorol level), then we would get a $300 bonus.
    My coworker was 5’4″ & wore a size 4 pants. She did a lot of strength training and, because muscle is heavier than fat, the BMI was listed as somewhere in the 30’s, and she was disqualified from the bonus. When the health screener told her that, according to her height and weight she was in the “obese” category, she asked the screener to point out where on her body she had fat and needed to lose weight from. They, obviously, could not give her an answer, but she still missed out on the bonus. It was so screwed up. So glad I don’t work there anymore.

  45. AnonToday*

    I just want to say I’m very uncomfortable about discussing BMI as a metric of health. When I was in my late teens I was heavily involved in a sport (Multiple hours of extreme physical activity, 3 to 5 days a week). I was stick-thin, possibly slightly underweight from a recent growth spurt. We were part of a health expo, and I had time to explore the other exhibits. One of them was about BMI, and the woman running the booth told me I was “slightly obese,” and needed to stop drinking whole milk. I couldn’t believe it, I’d had people tell me I look like I had an eating disorder (I didn’t), and this lady at a health booth spent 10 minutes trying to convince me I was overweight. If I did have an eating disorder, or hadn’t recently had a physical where the doctor recommended I try snacks between meals to bulk up a little, that would have seriously messed me up!

    1. Ozzie*

      I was constantly told as a teenager/young adult that I needed to put on weight, while being inundated with media about not being fat, skinny is best, etc etc. It carried into my late teens/early 20’s, to where I had a medical issue ignored by a doctor because I “simply needed to put on weight”. I was developing an anxiety disorder over being told – and pressured – to eat more, which was destroying my appetite entirely. The medical issue required surgery, and unsurprisingly, the anxiety disorder required therapy and distancing myself from all of that pressure to be able to work on it. Then cue putting on a little weight thanks to Covid and the anxiety returning around THAT.

      Fortunately, doctors I have had as an adult have been way more reasonable, have thrown BMI out the window, and not said much about my weight beyond a first appointment making sure I’m not actively trying to lose weight. But BMI really did damage as a teen in the early 2000’s alongside popular media at the time and I STILL struggle with the effects.

  46. Bethie*

    My job used to do this – you got a discount on health insurance. My ex who also worked for the same employer had to have monthly calls for coaching where the “coach” gave him advise directly contrary to his doctors advice. One women I know called it her monthly reminder that she is fat call.

    They dont do it anymore. Probably for all the reasons listed above.

    I too took medication which caused weight gain – an anti depressant bc, you know, pandemic and divorce. Im healthy and working with my doctor to lose the weight – but would be kinda pissed. I go to the gym and eat better than a lot of low BMI people. I just am built the way I am built.

  47. A Teacher*

    If you want to go down a rabbit hole, look up how BMI is actually problematic because of its Racist Origins. Good Housekeeping did a piece on it last year and there are other publications on it. I am a certified and licensed athletic trainer and have an advanced degree in a related field. I’ve never believed in or relied on BMI but when I learned more about the racist origins, it became even more eye opening.

  48. Brett*

    What bothers me about Donna’s opinions there is that they are heavily predicated on disclosure via the discount. It’s fairly trivial to separate actual payment from identity and pretty common to make CPRA compliance easier. It is even easier beyond that to separate discount applied from identity. There could be any number of discounts used by an employee besides just the BMI based discount, including temporary sale prices.

    And basically, it sounds like if a company does this: separates identity from payment, separates discount from identity, protects discount information itself, provide multiple discounts. Well, then, this policy could actually be in compliance?

    1. Clothing*

      Agreed – there’s lots of reasons the policy is messed up and wrong. It’s discriminatory on the basis of disability. That’s the point I would really harp on.

  49. Clothing*

    Very very curious – is the company a clothing brand? This reminds me of tactics used in the mid-2000’s early 2010’s by clothing brands for brand “protection” – like VS refusing to donate unsold clothes to homeless people or Hollister putting hot people in the front and primarily selling clothing sized to fit 12 year old prepubescent girls.

    I thought those tactics had very strongly fallen out of favor by now.

  50. Wintermute*

    I wouldn’t go the legal route with this one, because I’m seeing a LOT of “if you squint and look sideways, it could fall under…” and not a lot of “this clause of this paragraph says ‘shall not'” or “according to Rando v Gross, LTD federal courts have ruled…”

    You could make a plausible case for a lot of things, you could make a plausible case that it’s disparate impact discrimination because BMI norms are not set using a wide spectrum of peoples, for EEOC issues, ADA issues, tons of things.

    But there’s also a very real chance they’ll say “no, our legal council does not think these are major risks based on the law as written” and then they’ve called your bluff. You could file a complaint and hope courts rule in your favor, and you might even win one day. Also if you paint it as a legal issue they’re liable to do away with it altogether– which is not going to make you friends or help your standing in the company.

    You are not dealing with normal, rational people if they’d let this program get through approvals to implementation, so that must be kept in mind. The kind of company this committed to unwise courses of action is not likely to snap out of it just because they’re threatened, they might well double down.

    The best plan of attack here would be to find out what they care about, find a “higher principle” to appeal to if you can. These days D&I is big, are they doing diversity and inclusivity work? If they’re big on incorporating that into their values an aside to the responsible group about the problematic origins of BMI and how it literally leaves many people out of the calculations entirely may be enough to consign this to the dustbin. If you have an active women’s advocacy group then “promoting eating disorders as healthier than being at the high end of normal BMI is sexist and terrible” might be a better lever to grab for. Maybe you can use their own corpspeak buzzwords against them by going to the corporate values statement and saying all the ways this program doesn’t line up with their professed ethics.

    Note that all of this could be done ALONGSIDE a government complaint, and may get better results.

    If you can’t find the right lever to use to move them, then there’s always the possibility of a concerted group effort, this is so out there and so gross I would imagine a LOT of people have some real strong feelings, but none want to speak up. This can also be done in concert with the above: either rallying people by appealing to what issues they care about most, or by saying that anti-retaliation protections will have their back if they speak up with you.

    1. pancakes*

      I don’t think the advice is that ambiguous. The point about waiver of confidentiality, for example, is pretty solid. I would not expect to see citations in an advice column Q&A because it’s meant for a general audience, not a judge, and the people addressing the question do not have a lawyer-client relationship with the person asking it or the audience reading it. You seem to be looking for far more specificity than anyone can reasonably expect and using that as a reason to reject the advice.

      Either way, if the letter writer wants to pursue a legal route, the next step would be to talk to a lawyer. The advice isn’t “file a complaint on your own right now”; it’s “you may have a basis for a complaint and here are some reasons why.”

      1. Wintermute*

        That is a fair critique.

        Ultimately, I suppose my point is it’s sufficiently unsettled and nuanced that taking a purely legal tack when taking this up with HR would have less effect than going the social/values route because that has SO MUCH potential: appealing to a company’s own values and to their vision of what they want the company to be, and being able to appeal to their desire to be inclusive offers an excellent route that doesn’t risk having your bluff called.

        That said there isn’t precedent until there IS, so if it’s important enough to them, they can try to take up the fight from a legal perspective. I just am not sure that they’ll get results as quickly and it risks making things a little more adversarial than many people would like if they come back and say “we talked about this with council, and we feel strongly about this program.”

        The other thing is that there’s an order of escalation, if you start with social values, and later on have to take a legalistic tack that works better than if you start by claiming the law, and only after being rebuffed attempt to appeal to their better nature.

        1. pancakes*

          I have never had the impression, about HR people I’ve encountered or in general, that they’re more open to persuasion around values than they are around legal risks. To the contrary, I pretty much always have the impression that their values sharply diverge from mine on several points (they tend to be far more tradition-minded and socially small-c conservative), and that if I want to make any progress with them it is best to steer clear of those fault lines when possible. I don’t think there are many people who gatekeep benefits and flexibility for a living who are operating on their better nature, or who feel they can do that in their role even if they want to.

  51. Anat*

    LOL they are not doing this to promote employee health. They are doing this because they want to promote a certain image to their customers. They want their customers to visually associate their brand with “healthy” and think that thin representatives will promote that and fat people will not. That the fat person may be perfectly healthy or may have medical reasons for their weight doesn’t matter, as that’s not visible to the shopper.

    Obviously, they can’t directly discriminate on weight in their hiring practices, so they came up with this policy that pretty starkly encourages thin people to stay and fat people to leave. So what if BMI isn’t a good proxy for health? It’s a decent proxy for what they are looking for in the looks department.

    As for the policy also being racist in effect? I doubt they’re intending that specifically, but if the vast majority of their clientele is white, I don’t think that they care.

    “I’m concerned we might be violating the law” my foot. If this is corporate policy, they had an army of lawyers craft this policy around the edges of what is illegal. Better to name and shame than try to fight them on a legal basis.

    1. nonegiven*

      I think they want to cater to people who think you can’t be too rich, thin, or white.

  52. Forty Years in the Hole*

    Oof…BMI. That was *the* metric used by our military for years, to ensure we met our “bona fides “ for operational deployment. If you couldn’t stay within the numbers, it could be a career-ender. Didn’t matter if you were a top-drawer infanteer, a squatty little office clerk, a 6’+ pilot or sailor – even if you passed all the other components of your annual phys-ed test – if your numbers weren’t squarely and regularly between 20-25 (especially verging towards 30), it was the BMI number that the system focused on. Worked with a guy who was built like a fire plug, could run like the wind & outskate anyone in a hockey game…but was hounded for his “numbers.” Guys who were tri-athletes/marathoners – same. One woman who was deployed to the Gulf to rack and stack ordnance, who worked out like a demon, warned about her “numbers” … yet she wasn’t allowed to to work out in the open while there. I worked the system a bit to give her a break while in theatre, but as soon as she came back, the system was snapping at her heels again.
    They’ve since re-tooled the “bona fides” to focus on “battle ready” vice BMI, & that’s appropriate – but we lost a lot of good, talented folks. Even so, my medical release form (knees are totally done), has a big red circle around my weight/BMI metric – the system just couldn’t let it go and made one last dig. Does wonders for one’s self-esteem and morale…

  53. Ana Gram*

    I just calculated my husband’s and my BMI on the CDC calculator (ugh, yes, the CDC endorses this) and we both came up as “overweight”. I don’t exercise basically at all. My husband ran 35 miles for fun a few days ago and gets up every day at 4am to work out. And we’re both in the same category. I guarantee that man is healthier than I am but, according to BMI, his efforts are completely meaningless. What a crock.

    1. quill*

      The CDC is not… great at evaluating the science instead of the economic incentives of their recommendations. Increasingly so these last few years.

      1. pancakes*

        Larry Kramer might furiously roll right out of his grave at the idea this is a new problem. Have a look at some of his 1980s correspondence with Fauci.

          1. pancakes*

            I don’t think there’s a chance you meant the implications this has, but it was painfully obvious at the time to people whose friends and loved ones were dying that the gov’t arm of science didn’t care about them. That’s what the David Wojnarowicz FDA jacket was about as well.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      My husband and I are in the same boat, except I’m the athlete and he’s not. I also eat a much more varied diet than he does (although I will admit that I definitely do not eat enough to sustain my activity level…it’s a problem and I’m working on it).

  54. Meggles*

    I know OP may not want to disclose, but I am burning with curiosity as to whether the discount in question is the Whole Foods Market “Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive Program”. It certainly sounds exactly like it. Their company health culture is… let’s say problematic.

    Story time, I worked for WFM for a little over five years, both before and after Amazon bought them out. Being an obviously fat person I had their “Total Health Immersion” program not so subtly recommend to me at least half a dozen times, all by people who worked above me. This is where they ‘sponsor’ most of the costs to send you to what is billed as a health retreat but what I would call a diet camp. Whether or not you qualify is based on how much you fail their biometric criteria- the same ones they grade the tiered employee discount on.
    The most memorable occasion this happened to me was with TMS (team member services, or HR) when we were discussing why I was using up all my sick leave. When I told her it was due to my chronic health condition and requested information on intermittent FMLA, she started waxing poetic about how she had done the program and it lowered her cholesterol by 10 points, how she lost 30 pounds, and how I should “look into it since it’s amazing we offer this”! It was obvious that she thought my health condition was caused by my weight (spoilers, according to my doctor it’s not), but I actually wouldn’t have qualified for the program, as I found out when I read the packet she gave me, since aside from chronic pain I’m actually pretty healthy. While thankfully she didn’t try to ask me what my medical condition was, it was still humiliating- but I’m sure she thought she was being helpful.

    As far as Google tells me, the discount program and the health immersions are still going strong, and in my opinion will likely remain so while John Mackey is the CEO. The whole topic of his push to promote a specific style of vegan diet to the entire company is both fascinating and weird to me. If you watched “What the Health” back when it was going viral, it’s that type of diet. Oil- free, very low fat, heavily reduced-sodium, and not just vegan but strictly ‘whole-foods plant based’.
    In fact, if you look at some of the doctors featured in that documentary- namely Neal Barnard, Caldwell Esselstyn, John MacDougall, Micheal Klaper- they were part of the “Scientific and Medical Advisory Board” that was responsible for setting the biometric criteria for the tiered employee discount back when Whole Foods started the program over a decade ago. A couple of them have also directed those “Immersion” diet programs the TMS rep so kindly recommended to me.
    MacDougall was a popular one for the immersions and he also has a food brand that was promoted heavily in-store when it debuted. Same for the “Engine 2” brand of products that’s owned by Dr. Esselstyn’s son Rip, who isn’t a doctor but did a whole book tour and lectured at various WFM locations including mine. When he visited us it was not required, but heavily encouraged that we attend off the clock or at least listen in if we were on a break because of what a ‘great opportunity’ it was.
    Also, the “Health Starts Here” 28-day vegan diet program challenge was pushed heavily each year to employees when the customer promo period started, and our STL (store team leader aka big boss) had a ‘lunch club’ during that time where if you did the challenge you got the honor of sitting and having lunch with him crammed into our tiny breakroom (usually he ate in his office).

    The issues I had with these programs then and now isn’t that it was bad to promote eating more plant based to employees (although it certainly isn’t universally accepted in the medical community that this specific type of restrictive diet is necessary or even healthy)… it was the insensitive, fatphobic, ‘our way is the only right way’ company culture that underlies it.

    Looking back on it, the company culture seems even worse to me now after having worked for a much better local grocery chain these last few years that promotes employee health by having inexpensive health insurance with great coverage instead of weird, CEO pet-project incentives. I’ve actually been able to get regular care with my current insurance- at WFM, the insurance is prohibitively expensive unless you’ve worked there for long enough to get a reduced rate, and the deductible was ridiculous. Also, when I worked for them they didn’t offer it for part-time employees under 20 hours, and depending on your department, they prefer to keep a certain percentage of the staff part-time and minimize full time employees. They would schedule people exactly 19.5 hours a week to prevent them from qualifying for benefits. As a result, for 3 out of my 5 years with them I either couldn’t afford, or wasn’t eligible for health insurance. I still have a close friend who works for the company and she’s told me they increased the threshold to 30 hours a few years ago, and I’m sure they use the same tactics now.

    Anyways, I would dearly love to hear Donna’s take on the WFM company health culture specfically!
    I can only imagine if I had told our TMS rep at the time, either the rude one or the lady who came after she left, “I’m concerned we might be violating the law” that would have gone over like a ton of bricks.

    Oh, and yes, any cashier can see when someone has the increased employee discount- both on the register screen and receipt, and when you check the back of the employee card to verify it belongs to the person (not all cashiers did this but we were supposed to).

    1. Polecat*

      John Mackey is a terrible person.
      Just one example where he’s dead wrong. About 20% of our cholesterol Comes from the food we eat, the rest is manufactured by our body. If both your parents had high cholesterol, you can eat nothing but lettuce and celery, but you’re gonna have high cholesterol.

      “ Whole Foods CEO John Mackey says the key to keeping people healthy in the United States is for people to eat better and live healthier lives.

      “I mean, honestly, we talk about health care. The best solution is not to need health care,” Mackey told Freakonomics Radio host Stephen Dubner in an episode released on Nov. 4.”

      1. quill*

        I wonder, if he got a particularly sharp lego lodged in his foot, if he would claim that not needing health care to extract it was a good thing?

        1. pancakes*

          I have a feeling his legos are made of something like organic cornstarch and kopi luwak coffee grounds, and would painlessly crumble away rather than hurt his precious toes.

    2. pancakes*

      “Looking back on it, the company culture seems even worse to me now after having worked for a much better local grocery chain these last few years . . .”

      That’s great that you got out and are somewhere much better! What I have read about John Mackey is (long pause and heavy, heavy sigh) interesting.

      John Mackey on labor unions: “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”

      They announced that policy about increasing the threshold for healthcare benefits to 30 hours in Sept. 2019, and 1,900 part-time workers lost their benefits.

  55. A Feast of Fools*

    I just Googled to see if I could find this company (or, really, any company doing this because ugh) and the one that come up says they use BMI, cholesterol, smoking status, and blood pressure to decide which employees get the higher discount. The product the company sells is related to health (organic food).

    I wonder if that changes Alison’s and Donna’s answers?

    If the company just removed BMI and went with the other 3 measurements, would it be considered a protected wellness program?

  56. LMB*

    My head almost exploded reading this letter. I firmly believe that all corporate “wellness programs” (aside from the basic let people take vacations, and provide good insurance etc that Donna mentions) are very bad things on so many levels, but this has to be corporate “wellness” at it’s worst. I’m seriously raging right now.

  57. anonymous73*

    Basing ANYTHING solely on BMI is bullshit. If you want to provide a wellness program at work, it should be optional and have perks based on accomplishments that have nothing to do with weight. Anything else is inappropriate and gross.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, my company’s wellness program gives us a bit of extra money for health care, based on “did you get your physical this year” and “did you get an eye exam this year” and that sort of thing. Basically, are you accessing basic preventative care, which is fully covered with in-network providers? If so, they are happy, because you *are* seeing health professionals to get guidance on what is healthy *for you*.

  58. Elizabeth West*

    I can’t even with this company.

    Stop using BMI to measure health in regard to weight. It’s not even accurate. Thinness isn’t a measure of health either; you can be thin because you’re terminally ill.

    Tobacco-free incentives and employer-paid smoking cessation programs? Yeah. Gym discounts you can use at multiple facilities? Sweet! Wellness events with information booths and free flu/COVID vaccinations? Sure. Good dental insurance? Yes—this is very important for overall health. Weight-based programs—no no no no nooooo.

  59. NotAnotherSageGrouse*

    Putting my biologist hat on here: BMI is a totally useless metric.
    For starters, it only looks at total weight, with no accounting for body composition. So someone who works out–especially if they do activities like weight lifting that build muscle mass– can score a “high” BMI, whilst someone who has terrible health habits but hasn’t gained a lot of weight can score a “low” BMI.
    But supposing BMI measured how fat someone is, that isn’t a reliable health metric either, since humans do have variation in our “set point”, and some people are just outliers on the high or low end. Just because someone is fat doesn’t mean they don’t eat healthy food, work out, and so on– just take a look at the past few years’ Olympic shot put and power lifting competitors, some of whom are quite rotund and in amazing physical condition.

    TL;dr: the concern trolling I saw further up this thread is body-shaming nonsense, and this “wellness” program isn’t measuring any meaningful health metrics.

  60. WillowSunstar*

    As someone with hypothyroidism, I’d have to quit working for such an employer. Short of making myself have a serious eating disorder or getting cancer, I don’t see that I could ever be at that BMI with my genetics. I wish we as a society would quit rewarding people financially (and in other ways) for being genetically blessed. Yes I know diet & exercise, I’m in my 40’s now and have tried virtually every diet and exercise program, They do not work on those of us with hypothyroidism.

  61. AnonManager*

    What happens if you’re pregnant? I crossed the line over into “obese” under BMI around 5 months pregnant but my doctor feels my weight gain is on track and healthy. Could this program be considered pregnancy discrimination? Fwiw in most cases not gaining weight while pregnant can have really negative consequences.

  62. MEH Squared*

    Can we just not in the year of 2022? We’ve known for decades that BMI is bullshit and yet here we are. I am very muscular, Asian, and female-presenting. When I was anorexic and starving myself, I had a BMI juuuuuuuust under overweight. If I were actually the weight they suggest as optimal, well, that would be not good for me at all.

    I did not know that the situation presented by the OP might be illegal, however, so that perked me up a bit. OP, please talk to your manager if you feel comfortable doing so, maybe after finding out if other people agree with you and want to join in. Good luck!

  63. even more anon than usual*

    Thanks to everyone (I noticed cubone’s comment above, but I am sure there are others I missed) who called out that no one owes their employer “health”.

    My BMI is over 30 and my mental health isn’t great either; I have a few inherited health conditions that contribute to my size, but even if I were fat because I ate a lot, that would be between me and my grocery budget.

    Also, as for all the comments like “your weight should be between you and your doctor”: I did what my doctor recommended and lost 5-10% of my body weight, but my mental and physical health hasn’t improved and I’m still ob*se. My doctor luckily didn’t hold my treatment hostage, so my health isn’t as bad as it could be. Doctors don’t know as much about this as they should either.

    1. even more anon than usual*

      Edited because hit enter too soon: Since even doctors aren’t necessarily to be trusted about this, it would be great if people could stop saying things like “that’s between you and your doctor” when they really mean “that’s your business and nothing to do with me”.

    2. Ginger Pet Lady*

      YES. So many doctors give crappy care to people who are not thin. And doctors DO NOT get to determine how much someone “should” weigh.
      There’s is so, so much wrong with the way our medical system handles people who are deemed “overweight”. Just among the people I personally know:
      – Doctors refusing treatment for issues until they lose weight.
      – Doctors refusing to manage thyroid replacement hormones well (The range for normal is very wide, they’ll supplement until the TSH is JUUUUUUST barely in the normal range, and not one bit more, even if the actual T3/T4 levels are low)
      – A doctor dismissing someone from their practice for “failure to comply” when they did not lose 100+ pounds in less than 6 months.
      So yeah, let’s not give doctors an equal say to the individual.

      1. pancakes*

        I’m pretty new to reading about this problem and I don’t know much about the organization, but I saw someplace that there’s a project to create a directory of Health At Every Size (HAES) doctors. I’ll link separately.

  64. Ugh*

    What the what?!?!?!?!? So, if you are on certain medication that impacts your weight, you don’t have a chance at meeting their eligibility criteria. Between that darn discount and functioning normally seizure free, I’ll take my meds.

  65. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    LW1: I’d like to add an extra plug for something that Alison mentioned – reasonable working hours. NOBODY can get sufficient sleep if they’re working 80 (or more!) a week! If there’s any aspect of our health t- mental and physical – that isn’t negatively affected by lack of sleep then I haven’t heard of it. EVERYONE needs time to refresh their minds and bodies, to enjoy socializing and hobbies and simply to focus on something other than work.

    And establishing this kind of corporate culture takes deliberate planning. It’s all too easy to SAY that working hours are 8:30 to 5:00 but to then undercut this by less-than-subtle, not-so-passively aggressive “jokes” and little digs about clock watchers and slackers when employees actually do work those hours and to ostentatiously reward employees for working 8:30 to 8:30…or longer. Employers who want to set up a healthy workplace environment need to be very aware of this and very careful to ensure that they model and commend the healthy behavior they want to see. As always, actions speak louder than corporate boilerplate!

    1. pancakes*

      The irony is that the first CEO that comes to mind when I think about sleep and health is Arianna Huffington, because she put nap pods in at HuffPo, and when she started that paper, the plan was to not pay all the contributors. The reporters were paid and the bloggers were meant to write (and did write) for exposure. It’s pretty stressful to try to pay rent with that.

  66. Lady Pomona*

    LW1: I’d like to add an extra plug for something that Alison mentioned – reasonable working hours. NOBODY can get sufficient sleep if they’re working 80 (or more!) a week! If there’s any aspect of our health t- mental and physical – that isn’t negatively affected by lack of sleep then I haven’t heard of it. EVERYONE needs time to refresh their minds and bodies, to enjoy socializing and hobbies and simply to focus on something other than work.

    And establishing this kind of corporate culture takes deliberate planning. It’s all too easy to SAY that working hours are 8:30 to 5:00 but to then undercut this by less-than-subtle, not-so-passively aggressive “jokes” and little digs about clock watchers and slackers when employees actually do work those hours and to ostentatiously reward employees for working 8:30 to 8:30…or longer. Employers who want to set up a healthy workplace environment need to be very aware of this and very careful to ensure that they model and commend the healthy behavior they want to see. As always, actions speak louder than corporate boilerplate!

  67. Hamster Manager*

    I’m a bit frustrated that the response and many comments are acting like BMI is the only metric for this dumb program. OP stated that BMI was a consideration *among other factors*. So getting a discount could mean any combination of things, and I disagree with the “people will know my BMI based on my discount” assertion. i.e, probably high BMI + not smoker + exerciser = pretty decent discount.

    To be clear, my employer has one of these and I think it’s gross and don’t participate (because they don’t need to know my weight, how much I move or what I consume, full stop), and I also think BMI is a meaningless metric, but this IS different from some of the exclusively weight-based programs we’ve seen cooked up on this blog before.

    1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The OP explicitly states that “the maximum discount level is for people with the lowest BMI,” and that a BMI above 29 disqualifies them for these discounts, full stop. Not “BMI above 29 and X Y or Z other number,” just “if your BMI is above this amount, you don’t get the discounts.

      There are absolutely other things wrong with this policy, but the commentariat didn’t invent the focus on BMI. The OP’s employer (or someone they consulted) did.

      1. JM60*

        The detail about the lowest BMI getting the lowest discount stuck out to me. It means those in the “Underweight” status get better discounts than those in the “Healthy” BMI, so it incentivizes people to be at an an unhealthy weight (“Underweight”). And that’s setting aside all the other problematic aspects to this.

      2. Hamster Manager*

        They said it disqualifies them from the ‘extra perks,’ not that it disqualifies them totally, and state elsewhere that they can’t get the max discount, not that they can’t get any discount. I guess you can interpret it either way, but I HIGHLY doubt BMI totally disqualifies someone.

  68. RagingADHD*

    Is the company’s product life insurance? If so, this makes sense because it’s the same process and tiered cost as for consumers.

    Otherwise, it doesn’t even make sense. Is the product even something you want or need?

  69. Phil*

    At one point-and again-I was 6’3″ 200 pounds, an active cyclist and rebuilding a house so pretty lean and by BMI I was obese. Go figure.

  70. Retired (but not really)*

    OP you have my sympathy. This system you’re dealing with is absurd. As others have mentioned there is so much more to health than the numbers game. I hope you are able to be healthy and not worried about the numbers. Best wishes to you!

  71. L.Miller*

    This is so disturbing to read any company would do this.

    My doctor told me the BMI number is just one indicator. I have a high BMI. And I’m definitely chunky,
    Yet I have low cholesterol, low blood pressure and am on no medications. I’m very fortunate in my 60s to be healthy.
    I hike and walk most days and at 61 just took up horseback riding. It’s hard and a challenge but I needed that.
    Yet I would be penalized at such a company.

    Their focus should be on encouraging their employees to be healthy and instead offer, (not require!) programs for healthy eating, exercise , speakers on different health subjects, etc…that employees can choose to partake in or not.
    I’ll bet they’d find many people would of some weren’t feeling penalized or cheated because they aren’t reaching what is am arbitrary goal decided by people who aren’t their employees health providers.

  72. morethanbeingtired*

    You know, for all the companies that offer things like gym memberships, meal plan discounts, etc- I think it would make more sense to just let people count 30 minutes of exercise into their working hours they’re paid for if they want to! Most often, people feel like they don’t have the time to work out. We see companies pay people to volunteer for that reason- to give people the time they need to volunteer. It doesn’t have to be mandatory and it would be an incredible incentive. Going for a jog every day would be so much easier if I knew I’d get paid for it!

  73. ECMG*

    This reminds me of the AAM comment/tweet/story I saw a while back about someone who had gone to the organiser of a weight loss competition, heavily pregnant, and when she was told that she couldn’t participate she went to HR with a line like “so can I confirm that I cannot participate in this because I am pregnant?” It was shut down straight away. Honestly I reckon a chat with HR to ask “you are telling me I can’t use this perk because of my pre-existing medical condition, correct?” could be a no-brainer.

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