Jezebel very recently covered Whole Foods Market’s announcement of their new “Team Member Healthy Discount Incentive Program.” They addressed the most important bases: Whole Foods is asking its employees to reveal their health information in order to recieve a higher discount, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is refusing to acknowledge why that’s problematic, and employees with a BMI over 30 are totally getting the shaft on a potential discount.
There are a million reasons why this “incentive” program is creepy and invasive, and the commenters at Jezebel do an awesome job at pointing them out: this program tries to turn employers into doctors, it very narrowly defines an idea of health, and it blatantly discriminates against larger employees.
I’m here to throw my voice into this as a former Whole Foods Market employee. I left the company about a month and a half ago for a number of reasons, one among them being this Orwellian nightmare.
I remember hearing late last summer the rumors that our company would soon be implementing a reward system based on weight. “Did you hear?” a coworker asked me as we were walking through the café to our respective workstations. “They’re trying to give skinny people a bigger discount.”
I found this hard to believe and I was pretty immediately outraged. I’m certainly not what the world considers “skinny”–was I going to lose something in this situation? As I investigated out of concern, I found out more things: the discount incentive program would be based on BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, and smoking status.
The program was being developed more or less behind closed doors by the secret board of shadowy figures over in Texas, where Whole Foods’ headquarters is located. Employees, my in-store educator informed me regretfully, had no input on this. I couldn’t believe it. They wanted to police my body, but they didn’t want to hear my opinions about it.
It’s been six weeks since I left that company, and when news of the incentive program broke a few days ago, it was worse than I might have imagined. I could write for days about how unnecessary a program like this is—does my naturally low blood pressure make me less worthy of an employee? All of my super-positive customer feedback says no—but mostly I want to focus on the ridiculous use of BMI in this program.
The graduated discount level says one thing: thinner is better. It leaves no room for people with higher BMIs to be viewed as fully functional, and reinforces the very much untrue cultural notion that fat automatically equals unhealthy. It creates a hierarchy based nearly entirely on BMI—the lower your BMI, the higher your discount. And there’s no minimum BMI, either, so individuals who are categorized as “underweight” are rewarded despite the potential health risks of having a very low BMI.
I can’t even begin to address how triggering this environment could be for somebody with an eating disorder or somebody at risk for developing one. And the contradictory message this sends to fat employees is ridiculous: if somebody with a BMI over 30 doesn’t smoke and has good blood pressure and cholesterol levels—and trust me, this happens way more than people like CEO John Mackey and his “Whole Foods Market Scientific and Medical Advisory Board” care to admit—they still don’t get that extra discount. In the end, this is much less about health and much more about the enforcement of acceptable body types.
In his letter to employees, John Mackey said he thought that this program was “empowering and fun for team members who enjoy a challenge,” but what’s empowering about being told that you are less worthy than fellow employees? What’s great about feeling like you have to fit a very narrow, very specific mold of ideal health? And what’s fun about realizing that your contributions to your workplace mean less because of the inner workings (and outer appearance) of your body?
In my eyes, nothing, which is why I left. For a company that claims to promote “team member happiness and excellence,” Whole Foods sure gets a lot of things wrong.