Health firms pay employees to fight flab

With smoking and obesity putting a dent in corporate US finances, US companies are doing whatever they can to make their workers healthier and to reduce the number of health insurance claims.

Health insurance costs have soared 59% since 2000, and healthcare service providers, such as California-based PacifiCare Health Systems, are responding by paying employees $30 (15) a month to record their exercise and dietary habits on computer systems which offer online health counselling.

PacifiCare also reimburses part of the employees’ health club costs, and rewards participation in programmes for smoking cessation and diabetes management with personal electronics, entertainment vouchers and household goods.

Many firms push good health, offering on-site fitness facilities, healthy cafeteria menus and free bicycles for commuting. But PacifiCare’s voluntary programme will soon have a mandatory requirement – regular exercise and healthy eating will be enforced by using weigh-ins, pedometers, along with swipe cards to record time spent in the gym.

Workers’ rights groups are investigating the practices, which they say are intrusive and put unreasonable pressure on low-income workers.

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