Employers offer bribes to get you to eat better, exercise more


Would you accept a bribe to get healthier? Years ago, an employer that I had health insurance through offered 2 different programs where they would pay me money to eat better and exercise more.

If I completed an online questionnaire designed to get me to develop healthy habits, I got a $25 gift card to a high fat, high calorie restaurant! Then there was a second offer where I could get a $100 gift card for setting up certain diet and exercise goals to be met over a 6-week period. That was a self-assessment kind of deal.

Employers will, from time to time, test similar programs in an attempt to cut down on the cost of health care. It’s now legal under federal law for an employer to essentially offer bribes or incentives to get people to eat better and exercise more. So that got me thinking. What would an employer have to offer for you to turn over a healthy leaf? Be sure to vote in my poll and let me know.

When I owned a chain of travel agencies in the 1980s, I had an incentive program designed to get employees who smoked to kick the habit. Any employee who gave up cigarettes for 90 days would get a $500 shopping spree at a now defunct warehouse club. Once a non-smoker on my team timidly asked me, “Well, what about us?” So I said, “You’re right. If you come up with a similar health incentive plan for non-smokers, we’ll do it.” Though she never did come up with any plan!

My incentive plan for the smokers resulted in 2 victories of people on my staff who kicked the habit. So I was an advocate long ago of bribing people to change behavior!

Yet I’m also a very complicated person; my senior radio producer Kimberly reminded me that when she first took up smoking several years ago, I bought her a carton of generic cigarettes so she wouldn’t waste money on brand names. I guess I just love a deal that much! (Kimberly has since limited her smoking to occasional social situations.)

Now the No. 1 health recommendation in the February 2011 issue of Consumer Reports is to stop drinking sugary soft drinks. An average 12-ounce serving of sugary soda can be 150 calories. Meanwhile, the evidence in Consumer Reports is a little murky on the benefits (if any) of replacing sugary drinks with beverages that have artificial sweeteners.

Additional suggestions that Consumer Reports makes for overall health is eat more protein; eat more fiber; avoid “trigger” foods that will cause you to overeat; and increase your physical activity by walking more and standing rather than sitting.

Editor’s note: This segment originally aired January 2011.

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