CDC Encouraging Workplace Discrimination

fight backThe CDC has created a tool that they claim will “Assess the costs of obesity as it relates to their bottom line.”  You can bet your sweet bippy there will be lots of swearing in the blog today.

They claim that their tool allows employers to input BMI data and find out how much employees will cost the bottom line based on their “estimations” about prescriptions, hospitalizations, and work days lost.

There are so many ways that this is fucked up that it’s hard to know where to begin.  First of all, the calculation of these numbers are dubious at best for a number of reasons, starting with the fact they are based on BMI which is a simple ratio of weight and height that has many, many problems in this and any context besides providing a ratio of weight and height.  Also, attempts to calculate the costs of obesity in the workplace have been gravely questionable.

An NBC news piece asks “Is the CDC Fueling Anti-Fat Bias in Workplaces?”  Anyone who really needs to ask this should immediately go eat a big bowl of No Shit Sherlock Flakes, a dish which apparently isn’t on the menu at the CDC’s cafeteria.  According to Deborah A. Galuska, associate director for science at the CDC’s division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.

“To our knowledge, no organization has used the LEAN Works! tool to ‘target’ overweight workers for termination.” She points out, too, that the cost calculator’s webpage states: “CDC’s LEAN Works! should not be used to promote discriminatory practices such as considering weight in hiring or other personnel decisions. Weight discrimination is a serious issue and evidence indicates that it occurs in the work place.”

Well Deb, can I call you Deb?, I feel better already! No wait, I really don’t.  You have no idea how people are using this tool and you know it. What you do know is that you just told businesses that the government wants them to know that employing fat people is bad for the bottom line. “To our knowledge”  Really? I’m sure you’ll understand that your promotion of this tool seems to me to be a clear indication that you don’t have any knowledge to bring to bear on this situation.  To test that, let’s do a quick multiple choice text:

Q:  How can you tell if a tool you created is likely to promote discriminatory practices?

     A: Experts can’t think of away it could be used to promote discriminatory practices

     B:  You have to tell the intended audience not to use it to promote discrimination.

     C:  Sorry I didn’t hear the question because I was busy promoting discrimination.

According to Deb, “Informing employers regarding the cost of obesity to their organization can help make the business case for providing a healthier work environment — one where nutrition and physical activity is valued.” First of all, you can’t tell from someone’s height/weight ratio (BMI) how highly they, or their employer, values nutrition and physical activity.  Further, Ms. Galuska cannot show a single study wherein any changes in work environment have led to a long-term change in the BMI of employees.  In fact, not a single study exists  of any intervention wherein more than a tiny fraction of people have been able to create and maintain long-term body size manipulation and no study finds that even that tiny percentage are more health. The research that does exist regarding corporate wellness programs is highly questionable.

I think that if Deborah A. Galuska can’t think of a way promote to promote the creation of healthy work environments without promoting a tool that she has to tell people not to use to discriminate in hiring, then she should be fired immediately and replaced with someone who has some kind of base level competence to do her job, and that goes for her bosses – Janet Collins, PhD, Division Director and Ann O’Connor, MPH, Deputy Director, and anyone who is involved in the creation and promotion of this discriminatory tool.  A healthy workplace includes not just physical health, but mental health and for that you need an environment where people don’t face stigma and discrimination.


If you’re not bothered by the government encouraging employers to discriminate against employees based on their height weight ratio – in fact giving them tools to do so – ask yourself where it ends.  Ask yourself if you’re really comfortable with a world where the government encourages businesses to hire people on the basis of appearance and guesses about possible future healthcare costs rather than job skills.

Activism Opportunity

Let the CDC officials responsible know what you think:

Contact Deborah Galuska:

Contact Janet Collins:

Contact Ann O’Connor:

Contact CDC Director Tom Frieden:

For good, research-based information about workplace wellness, check out

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36 thoughts on “CDC Encouraging Workplace Discrimination

  1. … and there it is, the war on obese people … just that they still think they can war the state one is in but not the person …
    Deborah Galuska should know, that tool will get fat people unemployed. People who right now are able to pay for their own living, who mind their own business, who do no harm to others, who even are going about their work diligently and skilled. It is still a little shamefully sold as “No, do not discriminate your fat employees” …
    Under the Nazis and the Socialists in the German Democratic Republic was the last time here in my country that a certain group of people was fought to the financial base of their existence. Does the CDC really want to follow those footsteps?

      1. Strange, that the “land of the free” takes such measures, makes you wonder, what is next – obligatory “boot camps”? Shit, I should not give them ideas …

  2. So the USA government is now basically telling employers that fat people are HIGHLY LIKELY to cost them more than thin people, so it’s okay to impose unproven, unfair and unscientific programmes on them to make them thin… yeah, like that’s not going to affect who gets hired.

    First they came for the obese people, but I was not obese, so I did not speak up….

  3. This is disgusting. I’m fat. I’m fatter than most at my work. Yet, I take far fewer sick days (only 2 this year) than my skinny co-workers. I work harder, as proved by the fact that I have more clients than they do and I do their work then they’re gone all the time from being sick! So, tell me, how am I costing my employer more money?

    1. I can’t afford to take sick days (they count as an unexcused absence even with a doc note). I also work circles around a good number of my co-workers (I have too cause we are short handed lol). The issues I am having (health wise) are not even caused by weight and the stress from work is what makes them worse. If my job tries to pull this they better watch out, it’s bad enough as it is.

  4. “LEAN Works!”? Even the name is discriminatory, suggesting, as it does, that fat does not work. I can personally vouch that fat does work.

  5. I am so very incensed by this! What the heck??!!??
    My employer does not need to be involved in my healthcare. Hell, my employer does not put one red cent towards my healthcare. Ok, so fine, I’m covered as a military retiree’s dependant –but my healthcare is not free. We pay for it, unlike when he was active duty.
    Even if my employer did pay towards my healthcare—that would not give them the right to poke their heads into my medical files.
    Are they so dense to think that it won’t be used to discriminate in hiring/promoting fat individuals? Or do they think we are so stupid that we wouldn’t think it would be used that way? Don’t we face enough discrimination and hate?
    I am a very hard worker, I believe that my work should elevate via a promotion in the next few years. But who knows, maybe they won’t promote me because I’m fat, I couldn’t possibly do all that work that no one else can take credit for in my office.
    I’m beside myself with anger right now. This is so wrong on so many levels.

  6. I downloaded the worksheet for this LEAN Works program. Like to know what right the employer has to my BMI information, cuz they’re not getting that out of me. And there’s no input regarding how much time, money, etc., the employee health issues in total actually cost the employer. This program is simply an assumption that greater BMI results in greater expense to an employer.

    Sarcasm alert/

    So, let’s all take up smoking to lose those excess pounds and get right by the LEAN Works program. Then we can watch the employers health costs go through the roof, paying for all the medical problems, lost work time, etc., caused by smoking. BUT… we’ll all be a success in the eyes of the CDC.

      1. Hare drugs are another good choice.

        And don’t tell me users of hard drugs don’t incur large health costs to their employers.

  7. That NBC news piece was actually pretty good — except for the several headless fatty pictures. However, they did not drill down to show that the numbers touted as the costs of obesity are highly flawed.

    I used to work for a place that made a point of offering all sorts of “wellness” programs. I kept wishing they would just pay us all more, or at least give us more time off, instead.

    Totally anecdotal, but some of the thinnest people I’ve worked with have had the most health problems. Of the people I’ve known who died at a young age, only one was fat — and I believe she had an aneurysm and died in her sleep. Off the top of my head: one suicide, one accidental (while out hiking alone), two heart attacks (one while jogging), one colon cancer — all thin.

    The bottom line of all this, though: it is current accepted wisdom that being thin and losing weight are always good and achievable by everyone, and until that changes, nothing else will really change.

    1. Ya, another anecdote… out of the 5 guys (and one gal) in my office, only one is not “overweight” or “obese”. He’s the guy with the worst health issues. Back, lungs, cardiovascular system and has developed clotting issues. But, by all means, we fatties are a drain on the system.

  8. So the CDC created a new program to show employers that hiring people above a certain BMI – something that cannot be guessed at a glance, no matter how much people like to think it can be – cost the company money, they give it a blatantly anti-fat name, they encourage people to learn that hiring fat people will bankrupt them and destroy the nation… and then they can’t see how anyone could possibly use it to discriminate against fat people.

    So business as usual, then.

    I’ll definitely be writing some emails today.

    1. Yes, and if your weight is all muscle then you will have a different appearance if it was mostly fat. Since changing my diet by following the MinnieMaud guidelines on youreatopia, I’ve developed (for the first time in my life) core muscles, my back doesn’t hurt anymore, and neck muscles, so I can hold my head up now. I used to be harassed by everyone for always having my head pointed down, it was because it hurt too much to lift it.

      I have gained weight (since this is recovery) but my pants are now too loose, and can slide right down.

  9. It’s a fairly simple equation, and one much more accurate than BMI: if you can simultaneously proclaim that (1.) you have no reason to think that something is being used for discrimination and (2.) you felt the need to warn people not to use that thing for discrimination —

    You’re either a liar unworthy of the public trust of a government job or you’re a complete incompetent unworthy of the public trust of a government job. Period.

    Also, you’re kind of an ass.

    1. “You’re either a liar unworthy of the public trust of a government job or you’re a complete incompetent unworthy of the public trust of a government job. Period.”

      That’s exactly what I thought when I read that stomach-turning quote.

    1. Of course not. We can all just look at Mel Gibson and tell he’s healthy. Same with Tom Cruise and LeBron James. It’s only people who LOOK like they have high BMIs from eating so many damn Twinkies that are going to bankrupt us all.

      Besides, in just days that doctor we read about the other day will have perfected his computer program to analyze photographs for the purpose of determining BMI, so nobody will have to actually factor in real height, real weight, or use the actual calculation. We can just look at people’s photos and magically assess their health at a glance!

    2. Of course not. This is just a way to say:

      “Dear Fatty,
      You are ugly and non-submissive to us. Moreover you dare not to care. We do not want to appear to be so shallow assholes to bully people for how they look, so we will pretend we care about your health and we’ll get you prostrate before us anyway.
      We can do it so smoothly that it will be you who is so arrogant, ungrateful and ugly fatty, biting the hand that helps you. We will destroy your job, mental health, social life and everything we can. If you are sick of that, we refuse you any healthcare and tell its your fault. Then we will say to the world that fatties are unhealthy, cost f*ckillions money for healthcare you really dont’t have, dont’t lick our shoes for every sop they are given, are ugly, fat, arrogant and ugly, and of course WE DECENT PEOPLE DO NOT WANT THAT KIND OF TRASH AMONG US!
      So better do what we want and get thin at any cost. Or you will find youself devoid of all you have, destroyed, blamed for your own devastation, and hated for it.
      your society.”

      Oh, gosh. I read the blogs from the fatosphere and thank my fate I don’t live in America. I dread, anyway, that Europe becomes similar one day. Speak up, who knows who’s next. I support you, Ragen and all of you with all my heart.

  10. Had to leave and cool off because I was way too angry for any kind of articulate response when I first read this.

    This is the second BMI calculator designed specifically to help people root out and eliminate fat people from certain social pools to flow down the sewage pipes in the past couple of months. But they want to eradicate us in a compassionate and stigma-free manner!

    All of the War on Obese People’s premises are faulty to begin with, but Galuska and Guo are doubling down on one of the cruelest and most preposterous: the idea that fat people are not properly aware that they are fat in a society that considers that unacceptable, and if they just make life difficult, uncomfortable, isolated, and miserable enough for fat people… if they just tell us we’re fat and they hate fat people more frequently and more nastily… if they just take a *few more basic rights* away from us… we will stop our “body size rebellion” and turn ourselves into thin people to avoid the pain and oppression.

    Never mind every scrap of research shows that for the vast majority of us, that simply is not possible. Never mind further research on weight stigma shows most “obesity” experts are well aware most fat people cannot become thin. Never mind stealing our basic human rights, our privacy, and our very bodily autonomy would be unethical even if we *could* change, or that thin people who partake in the same “unhealthy” behaviors that we supposedly “must” all be participating in “or we woudln’t be fat” are *not* treated with the kind of cruelty, oppression, and stigma we are, proving that for all their jawing about health it really is only about our looks.

    Gah. This one’s a day-ruiner.

  11. I just sent this note to all of the people on that list:

    I am writing to you about this calculator on the CDC website that was called to my attention today:

    I do not know the genesis of this or what it is hoped will be gained by offering it, but it is my opinion that it provides no benefit and possibly a great deal of harm. I list some objections and comments:

    1. BMI is a flawed and inaccurate way of assessing weight status. It is a crude calculation that does not take into account age, sex, bone structure, or muscle mass. It was never intended to be used as a diagnostic tool for individuals. I think it has no place in any serious discussion of assessment or treatment of health.

    2. There is no evidence that obesity or overweight, per se, cause the many health problems ascribed to them. They sometimes — but not always — occur together, but many studies have shown that improved lifestyle (nutritious diet, exercise, elimination of stress) has the greatest positive impact on health, regardless of weight. Many people with “normal” BMIs have the same health problems that are being associated with those of higher weights.

    3. Even if weight loss did provide any benefit, there is no proven method with long-term success for most (95%) of people who try to lose weight. Even those who do succeed in losing weight do not lose enough to change their BMI over the long term (>2 years). There is no scientific evidence that any weight loss plan (including gastric surgery) has any long-term benefit, and in fact, many actually gain weight long term when they implement prescribed weight-loss strategies. Therefore, any employee “wellness” programs targeted solely at getting people to lose weight, even if employees do participate in them, are guaranteed to fail for most.

    4. The extra costs for employers associated with obesity and overweight that are used in your calculator are of dubious validity. They are presumably arrived at under the assumption I described in point #1, above.

    5. Employers should not be in the business of diagnosing health or lack thereof, nor should they be prescribing treatment. It is patently beyond the scope of their duties and obligations, and the possibility of sanctioned discrimination is all too real.

    I am not a scientist or a medical professional. I am writing as a concerned citizen who objects to seeing her tax dollars used for something that is not useful and furthermore has so much potential for damage. It would be far better for everyone’s health to end the stigma and discrimination that are so erroneously aimed at fat people.

      1. I suggest you put your thoughts in your own words if possible so they don’t get identical emails.

        I haven’t received any kind of response yet. Will be interesting to see if I do.

  12. I had this crazy idea that I had a deal with the government: I pay my taxes and they (mostly) stay out of my underpants. In order to pay those taxes, I thought I had a deal with my employer: I do the work that you need done, you pay me, and again stay out of my underpants. But then I woke up.

  13. Want to know what *really* costs employers more on their “bottom line”? Married people with children! Sheesh. Maybe we should create a tool to expose that excessive cost!

  14. Does anyone know a knowledgeable attorney? Can we sue the CDC for creating a hostile work environment?

    I am not kidding. There may be other things more hostile than the constant fear that gaining (x=arbitrary) pounds will cost me my job, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any.

    I am done fooling around with these bigots.

  15. Sent the same letter I sent about the Guo debacle, with only slight revisions.

    Dammit, I didn’t think I’d actually ever have to copypaste it. More fool me.

  16. I fired off an email to all of them today. Links were embedded to studies showing the negative effects of discriminatory behavior against fat people, as well as a recent RAND study that said there was no evidence that workplace wellness programs improved employee health or decreased health care costs.

    Dear [asshats]:

    Do you know how hard it is to find work in this economy? Why did you and your department sign off on something that makes it harder for so many Americans to find and keep a job?

    I am talking about your “LEAN Works!” program, where employers are encouraged by your agency to see fat Americans as a liability and a detriment to their business, and thus unworthy of being hired. If you have to tell employers not to use your program/tool to discriminate, maybe the problem is also with LEAN Works as well as the employers.

    In addition to promoting discrimination and a hostile work environment, “LEAN Works!” offers nothing positive. There is very little evidence that workplace wellness programs are effective in improving employee health or lowering health care costs for the employer.

    On the other hand, evidence of discrimination against fat people in employment, and the negative consequences of that, is rampant. Studies have shown that discrimination, stigma and harassment have a negative impact on the physical and psychological health of fat people. Fat workers, especially women, are paid less than their thin peers. This isn’t about performance, skills, education, or talent, the things that are supposed to matter in employment. This is about bigotry. And “LEAN Works!” gives the green light to employers and society to use that bigotry to deny fat people employment and dignity.

    There is no reason for the “LEAN Works!” program to exist, other than to encourage corporate welfare for these rip-off workplace wellness businesses, the insurance industry, and the weight-loss industry. Or as a wink-nudge way to make the so-called War on Obesity once again a war on fat people through discrimination and marginalization.

    This program is a disgrace and anyone who was involved in its creation, development or approval is not good enough to work for the American people. That includes you. End this wasteful, useless, and discriminatory program. NOW.

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