Randi Kreiss

Weigh more, pay more — it's only fair


Good for CVS! The mega drugstore chain, with retail outlets on every corner, is requiring employees to disclose their weight to the company’s insurance carrier or pay a $600-a-year penalty, according to a story in the L.A. Times.

Along with weight, employees are asked to document their blood pressure, height and body fat. It is all couched in positive language, as a “wellness review,” and the company pays for the necessary doctor’s evaluation. A third-party administrator handles the data so that employees’ privacy is respected, in keeping with HIPAA regulations.

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Look around. We’re eating ourselves into oblivion. Forget the North Korean rockets. Our enemies just need to wait; we’re killing ourselves off at an impressive rate.

The elements of the obesity epidemic and the efforts to control it are discordant. Weight-loss programs preach “thin is in,” yet people are getting fatter and fatter. Employers react when it affects their bottom line. When the minority of healthy people must pay for the health care of others who eat their way to chronic disease, that becomes a bottom-line issue.

Airlines are charging more for “customers of size,” as Southwest politely describes them. If you can’t fit into one seat, you have to buy two. AirTran has recently adopted the same policy. With some 33.8 percent of American adults now obese, the airlines are struggling with how to equitably charge people for the weight they carry onto planes, which then affects fuel charges and ultimately the environment.

A Norwegian economist, Bharat Bhatta, has proposed a “pay as you weigh” policy for airlines. He argues that it would create a win-win situation in which passengers would be rewarded for becoming healthier.

Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the University of Melbourne, says that it is becoming commonplace to see people so fat that they waddle rather than walk. According to Singer, a chief economist for Qantas reports that since 2000, the average passenger’s weight has increased by two kilos (that’s about 4.4 pounds). Over a year, that costs the airline an additional $1 million for fuel.

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