Whole Foods

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I would like to applaud Whole Foods CEO Steve Mackey for introducing a plan that offers his employees a larger store discount based on their overall physical health and fitness.  No longer just a patronizing corporation with a moral-superiority complex, Whole Foods is showing that it cares enough about its employees to do what it can to lower its company healthcare costs.

All company employees currently enjoy an impressive 20% store discount, which serves to make Whole Foods products only approximately twice as expensive as the products carried in other supermarkets.  However, beginning in January of 2010, employees who meet certain health criteria, including low blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI and no nicotine use, will be entitled to enjoy a further discount of up to 30%.

Upon learning this news, the blood-pressure of many Whole Foods employees temporarily rendered them ineligible for participation in the program.

Still, many agree that it’s about time the obese are punished financially, and not just from health problems and discrimination from their peers and society in general.  It’s also fitting that those who are physically fit be monetarily rewarded for being so, as they enjoy few other privileges from being healthy and in shape.
The goal of the program is likely aesthetic as well as cost-conscious.  After all, how inspired would you be to purchase a $7 box of organic Kashi Go Lean Crunch cereal that has been laboriously stocked by an obese, heavy-breathing Team Member with a pack of Parliaments sticking out of his back pocket?

Mackey’s letter to employees introducing the program, which was leaked to the media by an employee who was interested in sharing the news of their CEO’s generosity with the rest of the world, states that “we believe this is a win-win program that will help both our Team members and our shareholders.”

The next step on this road will likely be for Mackey to encourage healthy behavior in his shareholders by offering them increased stock options based on their smoking habits and weights.  I’m sure that this program will be rolling out very shortly, and I plan to keep an eye out for that memo.

JILLIAN LOVEJOY LOWERY: That Whole Foods has decided to decrease their health care costs by rewarding their healthiest employees with greater discounts is problematic, to say the least.   My initial thought, upon hearing that employees with low BMIs, no nicotine intake and low blood pressure and cholesterol will get heftier discounts than their counterparts, was “hello, discriminatory!”

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey seems to have forgotten that people come in all shapes and sizes, that things like blood pressure and cholesterol are sometimes hereditary, and that even smokers might like to purchase their avocados at a greater discount.

All Whole Foods employees enjoy a 20% discount, regardless of their perceived healthiness.  For those who choose to opt into this new program, they will receive a free health screening and will be lumped into one of four categories:  platinum (which receives a 30% discount), gold (which receives 27%), silver (25%) and bronze (22%).

Michael Sinatra, a spokesperson for Whole Foods was quoted as saying “It’s a great discount and it’s a great opportunity for free health screenings.”

It’s also a great way to alienate employees and customers who aren’t a size 00.

Full of righteous indignation, I raised this topic with a friend of mine (who is on a weight loss plan of her own), expecting her to echo my opinions.  I was shocked when she didn’t.  “You, dear,” she said to me, “have thin person’s guilt.”  She went on to say that, for some people, opting in to this plan could be a motivating factor, giving them the incentive they need in order to live a healthier lifestyle.

Maybe.  But I’m still not convinced.

If Whole Foods was truly invested in making a difference in the lives of their workers, how about offering the discount to folks with gym memberships, or who are members of Weight Watchers, or who go the therapy, or schedule regular dental appointments?  Shouldn’t this be about effort as opposed to end result?  Would that even matter?

Mackey, whose reputation for being something of a slippery character is seeming more and more deserved, should have thought twice before implementing this policy.  Whole Foods is already perceived as sort of an elitist, yuppie mecca.  And now it’s one with a weight limit.

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