Morning Rounds: Should Employers Pay People To Slim Down? : Shots - Health News Americans are getting fatter and it's costing us $147 billion a year in health care costs — nearly twice as much as a decade ago. Would you lose weight if your boss paid you to?
NPR logo Morning Rounds: Should Employers Pay People To Slim Down?

Morning Rounds: Should Employers Pay People To Slim Down?

Put down the muffin now.

You can eat too much of a good thing, and new research confirms that not only are many Americans doing just that, but the nation is running up a big health bill because of it. Medical complications from obesity added $147 billion to the nation's health care bill last year, a new study in Health Affairs shows.

That's compared to $78.5 million a decade ago -- primarily because so many more people (37 percent more) are now considered obese, the researchers say. "Normal weight individuals" incur about $700 in annual prescription drug costs, the Wall Street Journal points out, compared to an average of $1,300 by those who are obese.

WebMD notes that if America slimmed down, the nation would spend 9 percent less on health care. Easier said than done.

...more than a third of us are obese -- and another third of us are overweight. That's a scary statistic. Here's a scarier one: Seventeen percent of U.S. children and teens are so overweight they're in the top five percent of body size for their age on growth charts. A less nice way to put it: These kids are already obese.

Okay, enough numbers. Kids and their parents can't reverse this problem on their own, everybody agrees. On Friday the CDC published data on two dozen community-based strategies many experts think could help, from luring farmers markets to high-rise lobbies and poor neighborhoods, to pushing physical education and club sports in the schools and limiting screen time in childcare centers.

Safeway's CEO Steve Burd has been lobbying Capitol Hill with another idea: Guarantee steep discounts in insurance premiums to employees who lose weight, lower their cholesterol, or otherwise demonstrate they're getting healthier.

(Read past the jump to learn why some health groups are aghast)

Kaiser Health News notes that while current law permits companies and insurers to offer employees a 20 percent discount on premiums if they participate in anti-smoking or weight loss programs, provisions in the national health bills now under debate could boost that discount to 30 percent or 50 percent.

Burd says Safeway's voluntary program that goes even further -- rewarding volunteers for concrete results, such as quitting smoking, lowering blood pressure, or dropping pounds -- has saved his grocery empire and the employees who sign up for the incentive program big bucks.

In the last four years, he has said, his health care costs have remained flat, while the average increase for "most American companies has been 38 percent."

But as Kaiser Health News points out, the AARP, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, and other patient advocates are against making that sort of program law. As Paul Cotton of AARP told KHN,

If you give one person a discount, someone else is going to end up paying more...Our fear is that premiums will become unaffordable for people who can't change their behavior.

Would you --could you -- lose weight if your boss paid you to?