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Whole Foods Give Bigger Employee Discounts to Healthiest Employees

The Bigger the Person, the Smaller the Discount

In a controversial new program, Whole Foods will be rewarding its healthiest workers with larger employee discounts. According to a Whole Foods memo: "The goals of this voluntary program are to encourage and reward Team Members for making healthy, positive lifestyle changes and to reduce the costs of our health plan." I guess the overpriced fish counter, 365 Everyday Value root beer, and chocolate fountain aren't enough to cut costs.

Currently, Whole Foods employees are given a 20 percent discount to use throughout the store. Under the new plan, participating employees will undergo a free screening to measure blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, and nicotine use. Depending on their test scores employees will be assigned to one of four categories with corresponding discount rates: bronze (22 percent), silver (25 percent), gold (27 percent), and platinum (30 percent).

Even though bronze level employees still receive a larger discount than those opting out of the new plan, the incentive program still reeks. In order to qualify for the bronze level an employee must be tobacco free, have a blood pressure of 140/90, total cholesterol count of 195 or less, and a BMI of 30 or less. If you don't meet these minimum qualifications, you are stuck with the original 20 percent discount. Measuring someone's health by their BMI is highly questionable, as is just judging someone wholly based on numbers alone.

If Whole Foods really wants to send a message of health to its workers, why not get rid of the bakery, aisles of prepackaged, prepared, and processed foods, and the huge soda selection. No matter how you fry it, a package of "all-natural" doughnuts is still a box full of bad-for-you, oil-soaked bread. To me, this just seems like another move by Whole Foods to give the appearance of being a model of health, when it's anything but. John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, even went so far as admitting that his store sells a "bunch of junk." From his proposed plan to fix health care, to posting on Whole Foods message boards under a fake name, Mackey is no stranger to controversy. It remains to be seen what fallout will come from his latest move.

Join The Conversation
jupitergrrlie jupitergrrlie 7 years
I am disappointed in this article. It is one-sided and biased in my opinion. WF is not punishing may choose to not participate and still have a discount. They are, however, rewarding employees that make an effort to achieve good health. I know the fallacies of BMI, but it is part of a standard used to measure health. It does give a good idea on where are health wise - not exact, but an idea. As for WF getting rid of the bakery and such - look, everyone is responsible for what they consume. Just because they offer it doesn't mean I will buy it. It's about personal responsibility. Overall, I applaud WF for offering this program. I feel it could be a good catalyst for employees to take control of their health.
merfie23 merfie23 7 years
I really like this idea as a health care system. I have thought that giving discounts on health care according to our lifestyles is an excellent idea. Healthy people are punished all the time for the habits of others (current health care system). I do think that BMI is a terrible way of "proving" one's health. I like the idea, I just think it could be executed better. On the other hand...I couldn't agree more about Whole Foods. Isles of pesticide soaked strawberries, and "all natural" food. How about that hot bar? NOTHING on it is organic, nothing! Not even the field greens, Jason's Deli has more organic items on their salad bar than a "health food store", mind boggling. I live in Jacksonville Beach Fl, I shop at Native Sun all the way!
sloane220 sloane220 7 years
the plan doesn't make sense to me. shouldn't people with the highest bmi's who are the most likely to be overweight have more of an incentive to eat healthier food , such as being able to purchase it at a lower cost? it just seems like a case of punishing overweight people as opposed to truly wanting to help them become healthier. if anything, the higher your bmi/ weight the more of a discount you should receive.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
I agree with most of the posters here; I think this is a good plan. I recognize that it might be a little "unfair" to some people who are extremely muscular or who have genetically high blood pressure. (For example, my dad has had high blood pressure since he was in high school, when he was a star athlete who worked out all of the time and broke all kind of school and conference records in track.) But, those people are the exceptions, not the rule. And, even the people who choose not to participate in the program still get a discount.
Asche Asche 7 years
Part of me thinks this is a really great incentive program to live a healthier life. But the other part of me thinks this much be majorly violating some type of US discrimination law.
esweet esweet 7 years
I agree with the majority of the posters here - I think this is a good program. First, it is not cutting any of the benefits for "unhealthy" employees. Second, it rewards people who choose to live a healthy lifestyle (and I think those guidlines are reasonable). There is only upside to this program. Lastly, I don't understand how cutting processed foods and soda from a food store ties into this post. It is a healthier food store than most, but it is still a grocery store and should be able to cater to a wide variety of shoppers, not just one very VERY small percentage of the population that does not eat processed foods.
ella1978 ella1978 7 years
I feel better knowing that it's a voluntary program. If one was required to enroll to get any discount at all - I'd have a bigger problem with it.
imLissy imLissy 7 years
wish my company would do this
ht1979 ht1979 7 years
I'm a huge fan of this program. I know that BMI isn't ideal and I'd prefer a caliper-tested body fat %, but I feel strongly that this program is a move in the right direction. While there are obviously all sorts of different underlying root causes contributing to the escalation of health care costs in this country, a lack of personal accountability for one's own health is a huge issue. If a corporation can introduce a VOLUNTARY program that helps to educate employees about healthy living and motivate them to live healthier lifestyles and become more cognizant of and tuned into their key health metrics, I'm in favor of it. I can tell you that I'd be more tuned into my cholesterol and blood pressure numbers if I was offered some kind of monetary incentive to do so. Bravo, Mr. Mackey!
staple-salad staple-salad 7 years
I'm all for the idea of giving people incentives to be healthier, but this is the wrong way. A lot of fat people are fat because they can't afford healthy food! And places like Whole Foods are downright expensive, and I'm betting their employees don't earn more than minimum wage - $10/hr. You can barely afford to walk into the store if you earn those wages, let alone walk in and buy stuff that's good for you. Even with a 20% discount it's not too affordable if you have more than one mouth to feed on that income. I think a better idea would be to give the employees that are the fittest and in best shape a discount, AND the same one for people who are working on it. People who are unhealthy and work there and don't try to change positively are the ones who should be stuck with the 20% discount since they are the ones who don't need it. It honestly just sounds like weight discrimination. Especially since they are going by the mother of all "bad ways to determine fitness", BMI. I have a BMI that's borderline morbidly obese, and while I'm fat, my body fat percentage is within (at the very tippy top) the range of "normal". I just have really intense muscles. So apparently, despite being healthy enough to earn their 25-27% discount, I doubt if I worked there I'd ever get more than the standard 20%.
Leanne1078 Leanne1078 7 years
by the way, go to the Whole Foods website and look under Nutrition. It outlines what the company is focusing on this year for team members and customers. There are big changes coming and yes, Whole Foods is heading down a much healthier road starting with this program.
Leanne1078 Leanne1078 7 years
I also work at Whole Foods and no one at my store is complaining! There is a lot more going on with this incentive than you actually know, this is just the beginning. It is completely optional, no one will lose any discount, you just gain one. It also goes up to a 30 BMI, and I'm sorry but that is pretty fair. I'm a little overweight and I'm still a 25 BMI. They are also checking cholesterol, blood pressure and encouraging smoking cessation programs. The Biometric scanning vans will visit each store up to 2 times a year so if people want to get healthier and get tested next time totally can. They are ALSO paying for Team Members to go to 1 to 2 week healthy eating seminars or intensive one on one health programs with some very well-known Drs (ever heard of Joel Fuhrman?). And I mean fully paying, including hotel rooms and food. They will also do this twice a year to get as many team members as possible. So I'm really sick of people outside of our company judging what is going without knowing the whole story. Most of us are excited about it, and other people don't seem to care either way.
dontcallmediane dontcallmediane 7 years
I work at whole foods in stl and we are really excited about the new discount. there are so few overweight people at our store that it's not that big of a deal, and it gives them incentive to lose weight or try to be more healthy. I personally have lost 40 pounds so that makes me extremely proud but the big incentive is that I get a greater discount because of it. John Mackey may sound hypocritical because there are still bakeries in his stores but he has turned the store upside down to facilitate a fad diet called the engine 2 diet. that is the only thing I disagree with on this whole issue. I am really excited for the new discount especially since the store has eliminated the 10% case discount.
jkat jkat 7 years
My cholesterol is 202, but like glowingmoon, it is because my good cholesterol is so high (my bad number is well below the target). I wonder if there is an exception for things like this? I think the plan could use some tweaking how health is measured (body fat instead of BMI would be start), but I like the idea. No one is entitled to a discount at a private employer, so if they want to use it as an incentive for their employees to be healthy, I say go for it.
opentypeA opentypeA 7 years
I am young, a vegetarian, and I work out every day and eat well...yet my cholesterol is over 200. It's genetics, and because of that I don't qualify for this program?
jamiedynamite jamiedynamite 7 years
This seems great in theory but not so great in practice.. I am a tiny girl who works out regularly and eats well- but my cholesterol is extremely high. It's my genetics and I'm not starting medication until after I have children. Not fair, not completely accurate!
onlysourcherry onlysourcherry 7 years
Bottom line: private company can do whatever it wants. But I think it would be much better to encourage healthy habits rather than just base it on weight alone, eg offer discounts to employees who log in daily to a food journal, who get a certain number of steps on a pedometer, who clock in going to the gym 5x a week etc. I'm sure that plenty of people fall within the BMI and cholesterol range who do not lead otherwise healthy and active lives.
1apple 1apple 7 years
I agree with chloe bella and ticamorena. (And for the record, I'm from Canada and our health-care system is great. Not perfect, but it's wonderful to be able to get free x-rays, casts, surgeries, ultrasounds and preventative tests. When I broke my wrist last year, I even got free physio.)
Deb-Ho Deb-Ho 7 years
I think it is a great program and although I never buy soda or other "unhealthy" items there, I understand that they sell these items in order to offset a lower selling price of healthier foods which if priced higher would not sell as much and therefore they would stop carrying. Sorry, business major makes me think logically.
Spectra Spectra 7 years
I think it's a great idea, but with a few tweaks to make it a little more fair. I work at a hospital lab and every year we get the opportunity to take an Employee Health Assessment where they measure our body fat %, fasting blood glucose level, LDL/VLDL/HDL and triglyceride levels and our weight. If our numbers are within an acceptable range, we get a discount on our health insurance. If Whole Foods modifies their test to measure body fat % instead of BMI and takes into account one's HDL levels and not just total cholesterol, I think it'd be a pretty nice incentive plan. I'm like Glowing total cholesterol is 150 but my HDL is 65 and my LDL is only 85 and my triglycerides are at 53. It's all about the HDL/LDL ratio; not the numbers themselves. I also agree that you can eat SOME processed foods and still be healthy, but I'm guessing that most of the people that qualify for the discount are the people that are buying produce, milk, eggs, etc. and not the people that load up on organic mac and cheese and soda.
Deidre Deidre 7 years
I'm also in favor of Whole Foods implementing this plan. I really don't see how WF offering bakery items and prepackaged food -- those are there due to customer demand, which I think has very little to do with employees opting to buy WF products of any kind. Anyway, this is a carrot (not stick) approach to encouraging healthier lifestyles. And the fact that they're offering free health screenings at all to their employees is a good thing overall, in my opinion.
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