If you’re overweight or suffer from a disease like high blood pressure, you don’t want to work at Michelin North America.
If your waistline is larger than the tire manufacturer deems acceptable, or if you suffer from chronic hypertension, you’ll be charged $1,000 more for health care coverage. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the company plans to monitor employees’ Body Mass Indices, blood pressure, glucose levels, triglycerides, and waist sizes. If your waist size is larger than 35 inches for women, or 40 inches for men, or if other metrics fall outside of the “acceptable” range, penalties kick in.
Michelin is far from the only company considering adding penalties; indeed, a survey indicated that six in 10 employers may impose penalties on employees who fail to meet arbitrary fitness criteria.
Companies say that programs like Michelin’s are required to force employees to be healthier — in other words, by charging someone extra for having the temerity to be sick or outside of accepted norms for weight, employers will make everyone healthier. They add that incentive programs simply don’t work as well as penalties to motivate employees’ behavior.
Perhaps, if there was strong evidence that obesity was something that people could easily control, there would be merit to this, but as studies have repeatedly shown, this is simply not the case. Once a person is overweight, both body and mind fight any effort to lose weight. Indeed, over 99 percent of diets fail over a five-year period. This means that if an employee happens to be fat, they are extremely unlikely to lose weight no matter how hard they work, no matter how much willpower they show. Essentially, Michelin is planning to institute a $1,000 per year penalty that cannot be eliminated.
The same is true for people with hypertension. There are many different factors that can cause high blood pressure, and not all of them can be easily controlled. A person can’t work their way to better blood pressure; indeed, charging an employee $1,000 because of their stress-induced hypertension is hardly likely to make the problem go away.
It is certainly understandable that Michelin would want healthier employees, even if rising health care costs weren’t the driving factor behind it. Unfortunately, Michelin appears ready to embrace a policy that will punish its workers without improving health. Instead, it’s likely to stigmatize workers. Obesity’s cause is not gluttony, but genetics. It’s exacerbated by weird causes, like what kind of bacteria are in your gut. Punishing people who retain weight more than others is not going to make anyone healthier. Neither is punishing people for diseases like hypertension, or for the predisposition to diabetes.
What might make employees better would be a commitment to building a healthy environment. Subsidizing health clubs. Serving healthier food in the cafeteria. Making sure employees are actually able to get enough sleep. Adopting a Health At Every Size approach to fitness. These would improve the well-being of employees without buying into ableist, fat-phobic stereotypes.
Of course, it’s doubtful that Michelin is really all that interested in its employees’ health. Instead, it’s looking to find ways to cut its employees’ benefits and wages without getting too much pushback. As long as we assume that being fat or sick is obviously someone’s fault, and obviously a bad thing, we as a society will allow them to get away with it.