Biometrics, Body Image and Health - What We Aren't Asking
Biometric screening. These tests have been around for many years and yet, for the most part, haven't had a huge impact on changing behavior. There are companies that keep testing healthy people year in and year out, even though there is no conclusive evidence to show this has any long-term impact on addressing workforce health and well-being.
It's a lot of money spent on an initiative that typically doesn't help the majority of the people being tested.
If you can use the data from a biometric screening program as a baseline and get a substantial majority of your population to test... and you've got a good provider (less false positives), the information could be valuable, if 1. evaluated in the context of other data and 2. in the context of your particular culture. But once done, there isn't a whole lot of evidence that points to a return on the investment (i.e., truly helping people get healthier in the long-term) if you are doing biometric screenings for your entire population every year.
It begs the question, where else could those dollars be spent to have a more positive impact on employee health and well-being?
Also, there is an issue that is rarely, if ever, talked about regarding biometric screenings and worker well-being. The unrealistic images in media that children grow up seeing daily and how that plays out in the workplace. That often results in many people having a poor body image. Let's level set:
- The average women in the U.S. is a size 12... the average model is a size 0 - 2. The unspoken message is if you are not this size, you are not good enough, or in control, or healthy, or...
- 91% of women in America have at some point in their life been unhappy with their body and used a diet.
- Women, at any size, that have negative body image are less likely to get regular health exams or even use sun screen. A negative body image has a direct impact on the health of this person over their lifetime. (Yes, this information is based on research, not opinion.)
Getting weighed, for any person that has poor body image, particularly women, can have a very negative effect. "Knowing" your number/weight, at best confirms what they probably already know. Most people that are overweight don't need to be told. Worse case scenario, it triggers or re-triggers an eating disorder.
So, if your employee already feels bad about their weight and/or physical appearance:
- How is going to a group event where you get weighed, even with privacy screens, going to get people motivated to make positive change related to their weight?
- How does the screening take into account the mental well-being aspect of being overweight or someone that may have an eating disorder?
- Can it identify someone that screens as being within range, but is starving themselves or stress eating?
We live in a culture that idolizes unrealistic body images for the vast majority of the population. Most cover fitness articles are about weight loss or attaining an athlete's body versus a focus on better health and well-being, for people at different sizes and ages.
And BMI? Guess what, LeBron James has an out of range BMI. Thin people can be pre-diabetic or have diabetes.
We all know that we need to find better solutions to the obesity crisis and the type II diabetes crisis. But getting weighed in an office/business setting may not be the best way to start to address the issue.
At Motivity Partnerships and Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), we believe health and wellbeing doesn't start with a number. It starts with the core value that people of all shapes and sizes bring talents and strengths to the team. As people feel included and valued, there is a better chance they will start to make better choices and actually use the programs, tools and resources so many companies provide. Biometric screenings have been around for years... have they made your workforce healthier? Maybe it's time to reevaluate where your wellness dollars are being spent.
The money and time you are already investing can make a positive difference instead of potentially being wasted on programs, tools and resources that have little impact.
With a good strategy, you can have a workforce that is engaged, thriving and resilient.
About the Author
Mim Senft is the founder of Motivity Partnerships a workplace wellness consultancy that offers an integrated solution with vetted wellness partners that work for your culture and your team. She has over 20 years of corporate experience in project management, benefits design and wellness program strategy and implementation. She is a certified as a Worksite Wellness Specialist through the National Wellness Institute; has her GBA group benefits designation through the International Foundation of Benefit Professionals (IFEBP); her property and casualty insurance certification, Accredited Advisor in Insurance (AAI), through the Insurance Institute of America; and became a certified yoga instructor in 2006. Mim is a regular speaker at conferences and roundtable discussions on topics related to employee benefits, corporate wellness/wellbeing programs, and keeping a competitive edge in today’s workplace.