All this time, I just thought that:
- employees got worse in wellness programs because
- wellness vendors, especially their CEOs, are stupid. (“In wellness, stupid is the new broccoli.”)
Here’s an example that would seem to fit the hypothesis like a glove:
- Wellsteps caused employee health to seriously deteriorate and
- their CEO needed to spend “11 years in college.” That’s four more than Bluto Blutarski (though I think Mr. Aldana did at least manage to graduate, possibly without even throwing up on the dean). Yet when he accused award-winning health writer Sharon Begley of dishonesty because she quoted Wellsteps’ outcomes report verbatim, he called her a “lier.”
So I put two and two together and thought: “stupid vendor equals program failure.” Turns out it’s much more complex than that.
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology examined the relationship between weight and wellness programs, with three studies, summarized here in their own words.
The present research focuses on a downside of workplace health promotion programs that to date has not been examined before, namely the possibility that they, due to a focus on individual responsibility for one’s health, inadvertently facilitate stigmatization and discrimination of people with overweight in the workplace.
- Study 1 shows that the presence of workplace health promotion programs is associated with increased attributions of weight controllability.
- Study 2 experimentally demonstrates that workplace health promotion programs emphasizing individual rather than organizational responsibility elicit weight stigma.
- Study 3, which was pre-registered, showed that workplace health promotion programs emphasizing individual responsibility induced weight-based discrimination in the context of promotion decisions in the workplace. Moreover, focusing on people with obesity who frequently experience weight stigma and discrimination,
- Study 3 also showed that workplace health promotion programs highlighting individual responsibility induced employees with obesity to feel individually responsible for their health, but at the same time made them perceive weight as less controllable.
Together, our research identifies workplace health promotion programs as potent catalysts of weight stigma and weight-based discrimination, especially when they emphasize individual responsibility for health outcomes.
This explains an awful lot. First and most obviously, why people gained weight in the award-winning Wellsteps, McKesson, and Vitality programs. In wellness, I observed three years ago, “fat-shaming is the new black.”
Second, it explains the futility of one of the two positive (albeit trivial) findings in the recent BJ’s Wholesale Club study — that more employees will “watch their weight.” Study 3 suggests that’s a bug, not a feature.
Third, it explains the harms being visited upon people who already have eating disorders. Especially because Ron says employees should weigh themselves daily, which naturally is the opposite of what the science says and is downright dangerous for people with eating disorders.
Finally, it explains why Ron Goetzel will be spending his entire life trying to turn lead into gold (or in his case, claiming he already has, by giving Koop Awards to a bunch of failed programs which he calls successes). Sustained weight loss as a result of wellness programs stigmatizing obesity has never happened in the past, and there is no possibility — none, zero — that workplaces trying to coax, cajole, bribe, fine, or shame employees into losing weight will ever be successful in the future.