Whole Foods Half Brains

Whole Foods offers a scaled employee benefit system. In order to get the better benefits you must meet certain cholesterol and blood pressure requirements and not have nicotine in your system.  Once those are met, then your benefit level is based on your body mass index.  Their system is:

The program is optional.  It wouldn’t be optional for me though because whatever is below Bronze, I’m it.  Just call me level lead I guess.

It’s ridiculous at first glance because if they truly think that people with higher BMIs are less healthy, and if they are touting themselves as a health food store, and if they really [mistakenly] believe that thinner is healthier, then shouldn’t the fatties get the best discounts?

Bizarre pseudo-hypocrisy aside, let’s get clear on something:  Obesity is not the opposite of health.  The way I know that is that we don’t use the same scale to measure them and they are thus incomparable. Every time I see this done, it makes me want to scream.  This is not rocket surgery or brain science.  We measure health using measures of health, we measure obesity using a ratio of weight and height.  See what I mean – not the same thing at all.  Not for nothing, but if obesity was the opposite of healthy, the word “unhealthy” would be much less likely to exist.

I cannot image why we  are still using a mathematical formula that was created to look at the differences in body sizes of populations and was never intended to be used to measure the health of anything or any one to measure individual health, all the while acting like nobody understands the difference between correlation and causation, or why this is a terrible idea. It’s embarrassing. (Don’t just take my word for it though, see what Dr. Jon Robinson, PhD, MS thinks about it.)

Beyond all of that, I thinks it’s a truly terrible idea to start punishing people for things that can be beyond their control (and make no mistake, whatever spin they put on it that “it’s not a punishment for employees who don’t qualify, it’s an incentive for those who do qualify”, it’s a punishment when your groceries cost more because you are fat or have high cholesterol.)

Mostly, I don’t think that employee benefits programs should be built on a foundation of healthism.  Employees are responsible for doing the job that they were hired to do with reasonable accommodations and for doing that they should receive fair pay and benefits. They are not responsible for being healthy by their company’s definition and their compensation should not be size or health dependent.

Obviously given its policies I have no interest in working for, or shopping at, Whole Foods.  But let’s have a moment of silence for their tall employees (who we know get a skewed BMI) and for their athletic employees (whose musculature increases their BMI) and for employees who are being rewarded for being underweight due to eating disorders, and for employees whose natural cholesterol and blood pressure are higher than what the people at Whole Foods think is healthy, and for their employees who work just as hard as their co-workers who are thinner, and/or have lower cholesterol and blood pressure, but receive lower pay.

We’ve already seen evidence that there is bias in the hiring of fat people, and a pay differential when we do get hired, now they want to punish us with worse benefits as well.   Here’s a novel idea – maybe Whole Foods could reward their employees for doing good work with a paycheck and benefits package. be in the grocery business, and leave health care to the health care professionals.

NOTE:  I received a note from a reader saying that they thought that this program was no longer in effect.  Prior to writing the blog I had verified it with three employees and Mark at the main office.  Today I spoke with Kristi at the main office and she verified it as well.

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44 thoughts on “Whole Foods Half Brains

  1. I signed it a couple of days ago.

    But right now I’m in mourning for the days when I could shop at Whole Foods. Man. I loved their bakery section. **sigh**

  2. I walked into a whole foods once. If looks could kill, I’d not have made it out alive. Seriously the looks I got for daring to be a fat person in a “healthy” store… wow.

    I decided then and there that if the particular vegetable I was craving wasn’t available at any of the regular stores in town, I’d just go without. It isn’t worth it to put myself in a position where I feel someone is going to verbally harass if not assault me at any moment.

    1. “Seriously the looks I got for daring to be a fat person in a “healthy” store… wow.”

      But… shouldn’t they be *encouraging* you to shop in the “healthy” store to get yourself thin… er I mean *healthy*?

      It doesn’t make sense.

      1. One would think. But apparently that isn’t how it works lol. The hilarious thing, to me anyway, is that by and large their food is no better or worse than any other food. Maybe a slightly higher ratio of organic to non-organic, but that’s about it. Really the only thing they have going for them is a slightly wider variety of produce.

        1. We bought two bags of Newman’s Own cat food there, because it was on clearance for like three bucks a bag (a steal *anywhere*). But that was it. Everything was sooo expensive, so we never went back. LOL

    2. Actually, I’ve only been treated nicely & in a friendly manner by anyone in WF, including staff and other patrons. I’ve never understood why the *other customers* in WF were friendlier than other grocery stores!

      I’m guessing (& this is a complete guess) that WF’s “health” based benefits program is based on ignorance, rather than “fat hatred”, and also the buy-in to “what everyone knows” about health, that I believed for so long. It’s scary to me how I would have agreed with that policy just a year or two ago.

      — BUffy

      1. … is based on ignorance, rather than “fat hatred”…

        Treating someone as “less than” based on higher BMI is fat hatred, even if it’s also ignorance.

    3. Thanks for saying this. I thought I was imagining it when I went to WF a few months ago, but apparently their disdain also extends to the people who are paying their bills. What a bunch of assholes.

  3. This is unfortunate since a lot of people can’t help their BMI. I have never one been in the “normal weight” range. Well maybe when I was an infant. But ever since I can remember I have never been able to push my bmi at will, it’s always been between 15 and my current highest at 17.2.

    Similarly, I had a facebook friend recently post a status saying that she was denied life insurance because she is considered underweight. It’s scary to think that I might face that. I just might have to go on an all lard diet, then reapply when I finally hit 18.5 or whatever goes into “normal.” Now that just makes a ton of sense right? So obviously there are healthy overweight and underweight people, so we should try to push the concept of bmi being a big crock in comparison to health so that this nonsense is eliminated.

    1. I completely agree. My ex and his sister both had BMIs under 18.5. My ex tried to gain weight once, it was extremely difficult, and he lost it as soon as he stopped the weight shakes regimen. Weight as a proxy for current or future health is a lazy correlative indicator that is only useful — and then, much less so than people think — in population studies.

      On the subject of Whole Foods – I have a fat friend who loves the place, goes there all the time. But we live in an older, suburban and retired population. Maybe that has something to do with people’s attitudes, I’m not sure. I wouldn’t go there knowing their policy. And they’re also too expensive for me.

  4. I’ve SO been waiting for you to discuss this topic on here! This stuff is ridiculous and getting out of control. I love your line “maybe Whole Foods could reward their employees for doing good work with a paycheck and benefits package.”

    The company I work for does a similar program and each year the requirements get more and more “Big Brother”-ish.

    Did anyone see today’s HAES blog post? It is a nice compliment to Ragen’s. http://healthateverysizeblog.wordpress.com/


  5. Re the HAES pledge, Ragen, do you happen to know if there’s some kind of troubleshooting contact point for that page? I signed up a while ago, but it’s saying it doesn’t recognize my email address (even though it just sent my password to that address when I asked it to remind me!) Not sure what happened there, but if there’s something afoot I’d like to ask them to fix it…

  6. I have to agree. I do sometimes shop at WF because they have the largest selection and lowest prices and freshest sea food and grass fed meats. I MUST eat natural food but I can’t afford much of it. Whole Food lets me stretch that dollar just a tiny bit more than a local health food store. I hate that, but its the way it is because of my budget. But I do HATE that policy and I can’t speak for all WF stores, but the two I go to most often have no people of size employed there at all. I’ve never once seen a large person working anywhere in any way there. Its certainly one of the last stores I’d ever apply to for a job. I am sure a plus sized person would not even be hired. If I had better alternatives, I would avoid them totally. I try to use Trader Joes when I can or order stuff online, but since 98% of everything I eat is fresh, there isn’t much I can order online.

    1. Ginger,
      Seasonally at least, do you have the option of farmer’s markets? In my area I can get all types of pastured/grass-fed meats at the markets.

  7. I don’t shop at Whole Foods anymore for a myriad of reasons, mainly because I am rarely won over by a store or group of people who try so desperately to be seen as counter-culture, better than, more aware. I hate the feeling that when I walk in, I somehow feel not good enough to be there even though by living overseas for so long I am not impressed with all their “import” items (the British section makes me laugh the hardest, actually) nor do I enjoy their outrageous mark ups on said items.

    I wasn’t a big fan of theirs in the first place, and I doubt my tiny boycott will make a dent in their sales. But this just clinches it.

  8. Wow, this is going to help me rein in my food budget! I will email them to let them know why I’m not splurging at their store anymore – OK if I send this link?

  9. “It’s ridiculous at first glance because if they truly think that people with higher BMIs are less healthy, and if they are touting themselves as a health food store, and if they really [mistakenly] believe that thinner is healthier, then shouldn’t the fatties get the best discounts?”

    Oh, stop trying to be logical about this.

    I’ve been in a Whole Foods *once*. Their prices are outrageous, and lots of the stuff they stock can be bought at regular grocery stores for less than half the price!

  10. Yet another good reason to boycott Whole Foods, along with their anti-union stance! Thanks for sharing the info Ragen. And yes, everyone needs to sign the pledge, with or without super secret reason! 😉
    Warmly, Dr. Deah, leftoverstogo.com

  11. Yeah, the Whole Foods incentive plan has baffled me since I first heard about it. If their goal is healthy behaviors, why not give discounts to all employees? Argh.

    This post also reminded me of some stuff I just heard on NPR (in their ‘obesity=death series’) about workplace health programs.


    The Dow program they describe actually sounds useful, in that it mostly encourages and subsidizes physical activity… but then they have that part about the colored ladles at the salad bar.

    And there’s another piece about the ‘high costs’ of obesity in the workplace because… obese people don’t work hard and also require giant chairs!

  12. Can they get a contest going for who can have the best eating disorder? This makes me sick. Literally I want to vomit in the Whole Foods doorway.

  13. Silly Ragen! Don’t you understand how this is HELPING???

    Here, let me explain: fat people obviously eat too much. Therefore, giving them a discount on food will only encourage them to eat more. But thin people don’t eat too much. They eat much, much less than those bad, health-hatin’ fatties. Therefore, giving them a larger discount loses the company less profits on feeding employees because they’ll hardly buy any food at all.

    In other news, the oak tree outside my house is simply filled with winged pigs today, and two unicorns took a rainbow poop on my lawn.

    Also, while it was developed entirely to identify children with borderline learning disabilities, the IQ test continues to be used as a clear measure of intelligence, something it was never intended to accomplish.

    In short, logic and the intended purpose of things have never stopped anyone misusing data, turning it on its pointy head, and completely misinterpreting its value in day to day life.

    Also? Phooey on Whole Paycheck!

    1. “two unicorns took a rainbow poop on my lawn”
      *snrk* if I had been drinking milk when I read this, I would have sprayed my computer. Does the rainbow poop smell like strawberries? Just wondering. 🙂

  14. I signed the HAES pledge. I agree with everyone that this policy is absoultely ridiculous. I can’t quite go along with a complete boycott, although I’m tempted, because they have a few vegan items there that I can’t easily find elsewhere, but I will definitely minimize the amount I spend there. Great post, as usual.

  15. You know, I’ve never liked Whole Foods.

    But I’m still going to go there on occasion, try various products in the skin care aisle, then leave without purchasing anything.

  16. I signed the pledge and though I used to shop at that place exclusively because it was close to me I have stopped. I just can’t justify supporting a company like that no matter how convenient for me, or much I like their stuff. I have also convinced a few others to stop shopping there because they could see the blatant bias of this policy.

    The fact that people see this and think that it is perfectly fine just boggles my brain completely. People are so blind it just amazes me. the paragraph asking for a moment of silence really struck me in a big way because not only are they not helping people get healthy just “healthy” aka skinny…. they are actively hurting people health such as those with eating disorders and issues like that.

    It reminds me of a place I used to work at that had this “wellness program” that would give people rewards and bonuses for losing weight or doing certain kinds of exercise (of course not ones that are fun just the punishing kinds). They would allow and encourage people to take exercise breaks during the work day and I would get so mad when they would get a free ticket not to work because they were “exercising.” Then they would give out awards for performance, etc. once a year and the last year I was there the majority of the awards were for the wellness program, giving large bonuses, prizes and time off to people who lost the most weight or logged the most exercise time while the people who did their job and excelled at it were forgotten about. The only time I was ever recognized at that company was not for the two programs I started and money I saved them, or all the work I put into everything I did, but rather because I had decided to get the lap band surgery. Luckily their insurance turned me down the day before the surgery was supposed to happen (after having approved me multiple times before and then denying they ever did) I am sooo glad that I was, but once work learned about that I was treated like some kind of pathetic failure and all people would talk to me about was how sad they were for me. UGH. It was miserable.

    1. Wow. It sounds like they were more interested in policing peoples’ bodies and decisions than they were about their employers actually doing, you know, *their damn jobs*. I wonder how they made any money or got anything done with policies like those!

  17. I agree SOOOO MUCH with above opinions! I always feel the sideways looks, and I am a skinny, poor chick. It’s like I am a dirt bag for going in there and *just* buying a couple things that are on sale. wtf?

  18. Good to know- I was looking for an item that I heard they had so was going to make a trip. I’ll find it elsewhere.
    Also, given the prevalence of health care provider bias against fat folk, we should get the greatest discount since we will generally spend more time to get lousier care.

  19. thank for exposing this. i am pretty mortified. what a perverse adulteration of workplace wellness and a misrepresentation of health. i am thinking it is time for a new acronym for bmi–buttressed misinformation? anyhow, i will see how approaching them on this is received.

  20. Are they trying to promote “health” or just using obesity as an excuse to save on insurance costs? My former employer tried to promote something like this, but only after their bottom line was in the red.

    1. I don’t think this program actually involves insurance. It’s just the percent discount on employee purchases on store products. If you don’t meet their criteria(or choose not to participate) you get the 20% discount they used to have for all employees. You get a bigger discount the more of their criteria you meet, up to 30%. I think that’s all that is involved.

  21. I read an article once by the founder of Whole Foods expressing the completely unrealistic expectation that if only everyone ate properly and had the right lifestyle, we would all be healthy into our 90s. So it’s not a total surprise that the company is discriminating against employees who don’t live up to their idea of perfect health. Obviously those people just aren’t being responsible enough about eating their organic veggies.

    I’m equally pissed off about the blood pressure/cholesterol requirements, actually. There are plenty of people who need medical care to keep their blood pressure and cholesterol down (and some who can’t keep it in the “normal” range even with medical care), but Whole Foods doesn’t provide their employees with good health insurance. My friends who work there can’t afford their prescriptions.

    I’m not sure what to do about shopping there. I don’t shop there much anyway, but I really like some of their products. And, honestly, I tend to assume that the other places I shop are also treating their employees badly and I just haven’t heard about it yet, because that seems to be the standard.

  22. LOL….”This is not rocket surgery or even brain science.” – almost did a spit shot of my coffee 🙂

    I personally have *never* shopped at Whole foods for 2 reasons.
    1. The closest one is over an hour’s drive away and
    2. The idea of dropping half my paycheck in a pretentious store all in the name of “eating healthy” does not fly well with me.

    Besides…of the food recalls that have happened in the last couple of years, most of them were for organic veggies of some sort. Give me that pesticide hormone induced stuff!! 🙂 Even if I happen to sprout an extra breast or third arm, I’ll live longer instead of dying of lysteria 😉

  23. GROSS. It’s also important to realize that this is only one of the ways that Whole Foods is a disgusting corporation. The CEO proudly promotes so-called ”socially responsible capitalism,” which is a HUGE oxymoron, if you ask me. They also gentrify the hell out of places. In Boston, this local, family-owned bodega that served a working-class neighborhood of color with much more affordable prices, got bought out by Whole Foods. Even though that community made it very clear that they didn’t want a Whole Foods there, it still got built, driving the cost of living there WAY up, which ultimately displaces a lot of working-class people and people of color. So yeah, Whole Foods=capitalism, gentrification, and fat oppression.

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