Weight Loss and Step Count Programs Should not be part of a Library Wellness Plan

This post began as part of my post sharing my “Creating a Culture of Wellness in Your Library” presentation. But I realize it needs to be its own blog post, so here we go!

a laptop docked on a desk with keyboard and mouse. The desk faces windows and there are several plants in the photo
Photo by Nathan Riley on Unsplash

First, let’s talk about the weight-loss aspect. There is a growing body of evidence that weight is not the best marker for health. [i] The BMI is rooted in racism[ii] and is racist[iii]. This should be the full stop right here. Workplace weight loss programs are based on a racist weight standard that is not the best indicator of health. Period.

Here are a few more reasons. Workplace weight loss programs perpetuate and promote harmful myths about weight and weight loss[iv]. They create a work environment that promotes diet culture, which is harmful to individuals, including fostering eating disorders[v], low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety[vi]. It can harm relationships between staff by encouraging staff to focus on the weight and the perceived health of coworkers. It can create distance between staff who may choose to eat alone away from coworkers rather than be judged on their food choices[vii].

Finally, the final reason you should not have a workplace weight loss program – privacy issues.

First, the general reason – it is absolutely not the business of anyone you work with what your weight is. Not the fun coworker who thought of the idea, not the HR person might be acting on their own misguided ideas or some hints from the insurance company, not your boss. There is not one good reason anyone at work should know your weight. Now let’s talk about the other privacy reasons. There are different privacy laws around different types of “wellness” programs. Many insurance companies hire outside agencies to set up weight loss programs, and in that case, HIPPA rules do not apply[viii]. These agencies often sell your data[ix], and even if they don’t, they may not have adequate security to protect against a data breach[x].

Now let’s talk about step count programs. All of the above reasons count, plus, they are ableist. Do not do them. They exclude differently-abled staff members. You have no idea who is physically able of meeting a 10,000 or 7,000 daily step count goal. And it is none of your business who can or can’t and why. Just don’t.

So many of these programs that focus on physical activity, eating, or weight are focused on trying to control employees and coworkers and the choices they make. Instead, what you should be doing is create an atmosphere at work that enables library staff to make their own healthy choices.

Here is a list. I cover these more fulling in class, in my presentations, and in the forthcoming book.

  • Allow space heaters with safety features
  • Indoor plants
  • Create a culture where lunch is eaten away from the desk
  • Create an inviting outdoor area and encourage employees to use it
  • No open floor plans
  • No cubicle floor plans
  • Everyone has an office space with natural light and a view of nature
  • Provide space for meetings and private phone calls
  • Provide adjustable height desks
  • Ensure ergonomics of workspaces
  • Encourage workers to make the adjustments they need
  • Allow staff free to make decisions
  • Telecommuting
  • Flextime
  • Acknowledge emotional Emotional labor and provide resources to cope
  • Invisible labor
  • Properly develop a new employee orientation program.
  • Provide learning opportunities.
  • Provide opportunities for participatory management.
  • Modify jobs if possible.
  • Use job rotation to distribute the most stressful assignments.
  • Be an advocate for your staff.
  • Allowing employees to get involved in decision- making.
  • A healthy opportunity to vent
  • Keep the workplace fun
  • Enhancing personal resources
  • Leave on time. Create a culture where everyone is expected to leave on time.
  • Do not work on the weekend, evenings, or holidays if you are not scheduled to work. Create a culture where this is the expectation for everyone.

 Additional Reading

Brown, G. (2020, February 26). Why Is Weight Loss Still Part of Workplace Wellness? Rewire. https://www.rewire.org/weight-loss-workplace-wellness/

Diet Talk Has Absolutely No Place At Work—And It’s Time We All Stopped. (n.d.). Girlboss. Retrieved August 12, 2020, from https://www.girlboss.com

Doyle, N. (2019, November 24). Ableism In The Workplace: When Trying Harder Doesn’t Work. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/drnancydoyle/2019/11/24/ableism-in-the-workplace-when-trying-harder-doesnt-work/

Epstein, A. (2016, April 7). 4 Reasons to Break Up With Your Fitness Tracker. Adios Barbie. http://www.adiosbarbie.com/2016/04/4-reasons-to-break-up-with-your-fitness-tracker/

Mull, A. (2019, June 19). The Tyranny of Workplace Food-Shamers. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/06/food-and-body-shame-workplace/592069/



[i] Jacoby, S. (2018, June 26). The Science on Weight and Health | SELF. Self. https://www.self.com/story/the-science-on-weight-and-health

[ii] Bacon, L., & Strings, S. (2020, July). The Racist Roots of Fighting Obesity. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-racist-roots-of-fighting-obesity2/

[iii] Byrne, C. (2020, July 23). The BMI Is Racist And Useless. Here’s How To Measure Health Instead. | HuffPost Life. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bmi-scale-racist-health_l_5f15a8a8c5b6d14c336a43b0

[iv] Johnson, R. (n.d.). The Biggest Losers Might be Your Employees. Corporate Wellness Magazine. from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/the-biggest-losers-might-be-your-employees

[v] Ekern, B. (2018, April 6). Nurturing Eating Disorders: Diet Talk, Body Hate & Rejection. Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/nurturing-ed-diet-talk

[vi] Ekern, B. (2018, April 6). Nurturing Eating Disorders: Diet Talk, Body Hate & Rejection. Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/nurturing-ed-diet-talk

[vii] Bouris, C. (2020, January 15). The problem with talking about your “naughty” afternoon snack at work. The Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/the-problem-with-talking-about-your-naughty-afternoon-snack-at-work-20200108-p53pta.html

[viii] Wadyka, S. (2020, January 16). Are Workplace Wellness Programs a Privacy Problem? Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/health-privacy/are-workplace-wellness-programs-a-privacy-problem/

[ix] Hancock, J. (2015, October 2). Work wellness programs put employee privacy at risk. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2015/09/28/health/workplace-wellness-privacy-risk-exclusive/index.html

[x] Ajunwa, I. (2017, January 19). Workplace Wellness Programs Could Be Putting Your Health Data at Risk. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/01/workplace-wellness-programs-could-be-putting-your-health-data-at-risk


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