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Take It Personally: Employees forced into living 'healthier lifestyles'

A nutritious diet, good exercise and healthy lifestyle are all methods of investing in yourself. However, we don’t usually think of this “investment” from an economical standpoint. The future of health care benefits may force us to change that.

Our culture is muddled with messages meant to influence our personal behaviors. Some of these messages force us toward decisions that are poor for our health: binge drinking or grabbing a Snickers bar on your lunch break. Others make us feel guilty for our imperfections by glorifying an unrealistic lifestyle.

If these influences aren’t enough to sway you to make or break habits, money is becoming a more influential factor in your personal decision-making as well.

These days, bad health habits hurt your pockets just as much as they hurt your body. Someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day is paying on average more than $1,500 per year to keep up the habit.

The health risks associated with obesity far outweigh the monetary costs of a gym membership, or even a healthy diet.

Commercials of products and services promising to help people rid themselves of their harmful habits are scattered throughout modern media. It seems that there are plenty of resources available for those who wish to make a change in their lives, but some still cannot take the necessary steps.

Those who aren’t choosing to make the change themselves may soon face more consequences than bad health alone. After offering unanswered incentives designed to help workers lead healthier lifestyles, some companies became tired of paying for health care benefits that cushioned self-inflicted health risks and diseases.

That’s why these companies are now hoping to make or force a change on their employees by placing stricter guidelines on health care benefits. These new policies will offer different levels of benefits to healthy employees versus those with higher health risks, such as addiction to tobacco or high cholesterol.

This may sound a little harsh at first, but many of these companies first offer health screenings and also are avoiding penalizing employees who take advantage of the offered health incentives. The penalties will come down the hardest on smokers.

The National Business Group on Health predicts that the use of these “penalty”-like enforcements will increase to 40 percent of medium to large-sized companies. That means that these changes will be affecting quite a large portion of the workforce, hopefully for the better.

While I find these policies invasive, I do see the point behind them. A company wants only the best from its employees, but this movement seems to be blurring the line between a work life and personal life. But when it’s proven that eating right, avoiding risky habits, and getting the recommended amount of exercise effects every aspect of a person’s life, it can be said that these habits or lack thereof affect their work performance as well.

I believe that what employees choose to do with their bodies is their own business. Yet, I don’t see how can you justify enforcing the same health insurance policies on employees who choose to take care of themselves versus those who use the majority of the benefits due to factors that are mainly under their own control.

These insurance penalties can only truly be judged once their effectiveness can be determined. Even if the new policies are slightly imposing, if they can keep employees in good health, they will pay off in more ways than one.

And, judging by the fast growth of the trend, these policies are likely to be carried on throughout future years. You might want to make the choice to take good care of yourself, while it’s still your decision to make.

Nicole Spears is a sophomore studying public relations and a columnist for The Post. Influence her health habits by emailing her at

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