Sandy Says: Wellness…What??!

Many companies – my employer is one – offer wellness tips for employees, ensure that health care plans cover physicals and preventative care and offer cheap or free memberships to health clubs. But when you get right down to it, is this all just lip service?

There's an old saying that goes something like this: "A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips." Can the same be said of the lip service paid to employee health and wellness programs at some companies?

A few months ago, some employees in our office agreed to participate in a fitness pilot project. It involved wearing a fitness tracker that measures "steps." A group goal was set – to "walk" the distance to our Colorado office – and a prize was promised if the goal was met. The goal was blown out of the water but no prize materialized.

A second round of fitness tracking was launched and was "won" by one of my coworkers, who was the top performer in this particular challenge. No prize for her, either, as everyone's name was thrown in the hat and someone else won the drawing. 

A third round was instituted, she told me, "But I didn't do it. Why bother?"

This particular coworker is fit. She sometimes bikes several miles to work. She takes yoga classes. She goes on vacations to hike (shudder) and she and her husband do a lot of walking and biking around their neighborhood. If she isn't motivated to participate in a fitness program, how do they intend to get the rest of us shlubs moving?

By the same token, the old vending machine on our floor was changed out a year or so ago. The new machine sports a big green label that notes: "Balanced Choices provides you with a variety of food choices to achieve a healthier lifestyle." It tells us that the items with the green, "healthier choices" designation offer reduced fat, sugar, sodium and calories. There even is a footnote on the label, which states: "Candy is not part of the Balanced Choices program."

A few days ago, a Post-It note appeared on the machine. It complained that there were two E-9s and that if you wanted one choice and pressed E-9, you might receive the other choice. Well, once one person complains…

That Post-It note now is covered with comments, most of them complaints about the content of the machine. Most tellingly, the complaints center around the inclusion of Raisinetes, Hershey Bars, Doritos, Rice Krispie Treats and Twizzlers as items labeled as "Balanced Choices."

"Twizzlers, Raisinets, Hershey Bars and Doritos are not healthy!" exclaimed one commenter. To which another replied: "Twizzlers are low fat. Raisinetes have fiber. Hershey Bars have almonds. Doritos…okay…you got me." That Post-It note has sparked more conversation about health and fitness than our corporate wellness efforts.

But what do I expect from a company that holds a party featuring pumpkin-flavored beers and candy as part of a Halloween costume contest, but that refuses to allow employees to hold a lunchtime yoga class?

Now, if my employer really wanted to get serious about our health, it would demand that at the very least, items marked "balanced choices" actually were decent choices and not just a repository for the leftover candy bars that didn't fit in the other slots. Or, heaven forbid, it would require that ALL vending choices were healthy. I don't see that happening here.

As for me, I just finished a salad, and now I'm going to purchase a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup from the vending machine. It's not marked as a "balanced choice," but I know it's healthy because peanut butter is a protein and chocolate has dairy. Those are two major food groups, right?

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