Weight Loss at the Workplace

This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, September 1, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.

Watch Your World w/Cavuto weekdays at 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET.

TERRY KEENAN, GUEST HOST: If you want to fatten your wallet, well, then cut the fat. If you’re overweight (search), don’t be surprised if your boss pays you to lose the weight. It’s a practice catching on as companies try to take on obesity (search).

Just ask Brent Barton. He started a "Get Healthy for Life Contest" at his company. He’s the president of VSM Abrasives in Missouri, and his employee, Don Richards, there on the left participated in that program.

And welcome to you both.

Don, let me start with you. You look pretty healthy and svelte. I guess the program worked. Did you enjoy it?

DON RICHARDS, IN COMPANY WEIGHT LOSS PROGRAM: Well, it worked very well, and I enjoyed participating in the program definitely.

KEENAN: Was it a mandatory program?

RICHARDS: No. It was strictly a voluntary program. However, a goodly number of people participated in it.

KEENAN: And how much weight did you lose?

RICHARDS: I lost approximately 37 pounds.

KEENAN: Well, good for you.

Brent, what made you decide to start this program, and what have been the reviews so far?

BRENT BARTON, ENCOURAGING WEIGHT LOSS AT WORK: Well, we like to do a lot of fun things with the employees, and one of the employees suggested that we have a weight loss program with the winner receiving cash. So, instead of doing that, we wanted everybody to be able to participate.

We had them choose up teams, so we could have a little peer pressure to help them lose weight as a team, and, to encourage it, we offered them a day off with pay and some cash if they were to lose some weight over a period of time, and the real ultimate reason was, of course, we wanted people just to stay healthier. The healthier they are, the happier they are, and, hopefully, the more productive they are.

So that was the real reason we started the program, just to get people to feel more enthusiastic about themselves, so, hopefully, they’d do a better job at their factory, at their work.

KEENAN: And, you know, of course, we know that increasingly for business, particularly small businesses, health-care costs are a big chunk of your annual outlay. Have your insurers said that by instituting this program your company’s going to save a lot of money?

BARTON: Well, they haven’t yet. It’s too soon. We only started the program 18 months ago, and we’ve still got 50 people out of the 72 that are either maintaining their weight or continue to lose.

But what we’re seeing is people that are starting to rely on drugs less. We’ve had two people that have gone off their high blood pressure medicine.

So, hopefully, what we’re seeing is more and more people will get healthier, use medication less, go to their doctor less, and, therefore, we will see lower premiums in the future.

When you only have 50 people so far in the program -- and their spouses are included in the insurance premiums, too -- it’s going to take a long time to see that. But, eventually, I would think that we could at least maybe contain our insurance costs from going up a little bit, rather than seeing the double digits like we’ve seen for the last five years.

KEENAN: Don, how has this affected morale among you and your colleagues over the last 18 months?

RICHARDS: Oh, I think it’s increased the morale quite a bit because of the team effort involved. With the teams, there’s a certain esprit de corps, and everybody wants to help out each other, and I think it’s definitely helped the morale of the people in the company.

KEENAN: Brent, anyone balking about this, saying they’re being discriminated against, or even, you know, maybe some slim people on the staff who feel left out as well?

BARTON: Absolutely. We’ve got slim people that were upset that they couldn’t join in, and, in fact, I’m fairly slim, and nobody wanted me on their team because they didn’t think I could lose a lot of weight. So I put the minimum.

You only had to lose five pounds to participate, but there are some slim people that didn’t even need to do that. So they do feel a little bit jokingly discriminated against, but we give them opportunities for free days off work for other things, for attendance and for things like.

KEENAN: All right.

BARTON: So everybody can get something out of working for VMS. So it’s really not a discriminatory problem we’ve got.

KEENAN: So they’re blackballing the boss, all right.

BARTON: Absolutely.

KEENAN: Thanks, Brent. Brent Barton and, also, to Don Richards.

And my next guest, though, calls this practice blatant discrimination. Joining us now from San Francisco is Marilyn Wann, author of Fat! So? and an advocate.

Ms. Wann, welcome.

You know, if a company’s paying you to be healthier and you want to go along with it and they’re not forcing you, it’s voluntary as it is in the case with this company, what’s wrong with that?

MARILYN WANN, FAT! SO? AUTHOR: There are so many things wrong with this, but the first thing is that you can’t tell how healthy a person is by what they weigh.

I am all for good nutrition and exercise. I do those things that keep me healthy, but this company is behaving in a manner that’s not only discriminatory, it’s both dangerous and counterproductive, dangerous in the sense that people whose weight yo-yos actually have health problems, dangerous in the sense that they may well trigger people’s eating disorders, and counterproductive in the sense that medical studies show us that 90 percent to 95 percent of people who lose weights on diets just like the one they’re undertaking gain it all back and often then some.

It’s just counterproductive and not really forward thinking. It’s certainly not diversity minded.

KEENAN: Yet this country’s facing an epidemic of obesity. We’re starting to see that in higher diabetes and other sorts of diseases and death rates. Isn’t this just the beginning of a wave that’s going to sweep over all of corporate America?

WANN: Good Lord. I hope not because I’m certainly not going to work for those people who hate me and want to cut me down to size.

The medical studies show that people who get good nutrition and exercise, whether or not they lose weight, get healthier. I think Americans are sedentary, whether they’re fat or thin. Americans eat a very poor diet, whether they’re fat or thin. We can all do better on those counts.

But, when you link healthy behaviors to body-hating attitudes, like, if you’re fat, you’re a bad person, you really doom those healthy behaviors. People only are going to do the healthy behaviors as long as the contest is running, and the minute it’s done, they’re going to stop. So how healthy is that?

KEENAN: What about companies that offer a gym as a perk as a lower price than you could get it if you...

WANN: Great. Great. I would be all over it!

KEENAN: You’re not against that.

WANN: I would be all over that gym, yes. I would also hope that they have a very diversity-minded and welcoming setting in that gym facility where people of all sizes can exercise and do something good for their bodies whether or not they lose weight.

KEENAN: If the program like the one at VSM is voluntary and it’s kind of a team-spirit effort, what’s wrong with that?

WANN: I think if I had to sit in a room with people talking about how much they hated their fat bodies, that would feel like a very discriminatory and unwelcoming business environment. I would start looking for another job, and I encourage other people to expect respect in the workplace.

KEENAN: Are you concerned, though, that going forward we’re going see a lot more of these types of programs, especially given the health-care costs involved?

WANN: There have been programs like this before, and the results in terms of weight loss have been so sad that usually people drop them. But I think that people are really afraid because of propaganda around scares about the so-called obesity epidemic, and really I think if we use common sense, we can all eat better and exercise more and love our bodies at any size.

KEENAN: All right. We’re going to leave it there. Thanks for giving us your side of the story.

Marilyn Wann.

WANN: Thank you.

Content and Programming Copyright 2003 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2003 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.