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Corporations Slim Down Employees, Medical Costs

It's no longer just a personal problem. Obesity in the workplace has become a corporate concern, with more and more companies stepping in to help employees lose weight, reports CBS News medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.

Cell phone manufacturer Audiovox helped Rosemarie Barila lose 12 pounds by splitting the cost of a pedometer so she could monitor her activity level.

"Today so far, I have 9,893 steps…That converts to 3.73 miles," Barila says with a laugh.

The pedometer program, along with cholesterol and diabetes clinics, is the work of wellness director Chris Lis Johnson.

"Healthier employees are more productive employees," Johnson says.

Johnson is one of dozens of corporate representatives attending a seminar to help companies slim down their rank and file. In the face of escalating healthcare costs and an estimated $5.5 billion in lost productivity linked to obesity, healthy workers have become an essential investment.

"When employees feel the care of their employer, they are willing to work harder and they are willing to stay loyal," says David Hunnicut, president of the Wellness Councils of America.

It all sounds idealistic--a leaner, meaner, more productive workforce, complete with a nutrition ethic. But at what point does helping employees lose weight turn into discrimination against overweight people?

According to attorney Andrew Roth, it's a slippery slope.

"How do you determine who the candidates are for enrollment in a clinic? Is it based upon an employer's visual observation that employee Jones or Smith looks overweight?" asks Roth.

Back at Audiovox, Johnson says all programs are voluntary.

"I don't feel we push," says Johnson. "We put it on the bulletin board."

If the obesity epidemic continues to grow as expected, it may not be long before employers have to push--when public health begins to jeopardize corporate health.
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