IBM Pays Off Kids’ Wellness: Earn Cash By Not Eating Trash

fruit-veggies.jpgThe WSJ and CNN report that IBM is launching a new wellness program in ’08 to combat childhood obesity among employees’ children.

They’ll pay $150 to employees who sign up a child and complete a 3 month online program using interactive web-based tools feeding core messages about diet, nutrition, and exercise training.

In the ‘different strokes’ category, I’ve seen all kinds of behavioral modification incentives, from kids paid with M&Ms and stickers for potty training, paying picky eaters with quarters for sampling healthier fare, or the ol’ ‘straight As’ carrot chase…but I have yet to see a corporation like IBM get in on the game…Fascinating.

Aside from the rather wacky vibe of ‘force-feeding families’ to actually take care of their kids properly, it’s really no different than many other bribes (er, excuse me, ‘incentives’) prevalent in pop culture payoffs these days.

In fact, it will probably slide easily into the ‘whatever works’ category of education integration…Gotta admit, it’s an interesting tactic, and judging by their curbed costs in prior efforts (smoking cessation and exercise averting employee health costs between $100-130 million) this could save corporate coffers some big bucks in productivity, absences, and overall medical payouts for family plans. Hard to argue with that…

RWJF reports that program participants can use password-protected, self-paced tracking plans to monitor metrics such as the frequency of family meals or daily fruit and vegetable consumption, and they’re targeting the lifestyle issues by recommending active games, family walks, and at home dinners, since the last three decades have seen huge shifts in the way people consume meals on the go or ‘away from home,’ as this extensive Keystone Forum report reveals.

IBM’s senior vice president of human resources says addressing preventable health issues among children is simply a logical next step, targeting dependents as well as employees. And they’re not alone.

According to this News Observer article, Raleigh-based Progress Energy is “offering bonuses of up to $400 in the coming year to employees who do not use tobacco and who keep their weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels within goal ranges.” Makes sense really, from a preventive risk management/fiscal perspective…

The article goes on to say that “cash incentive programs typically result in at least three dollars in savings for every dollar a company spends. Such returns have persuaded many companies to begin targeting employees’ spouses, offering rewards to husbands and wives who enroll in a program to manage their diabetes, for example.”

Again, worth a shot. My main rub? (aside from the creepy notion of companies telling families how to feed their kids and make a buck off their backs simultaneously) would be the last item of this CNN list of leading health orgs and resources that needs further consideration…

IBM is teaming with folks like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the US Preventive Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…but look at the last line in the paragraph of the CNN piece, “Employees also receive the book, “Family Power” by Karen Miller-Kovach, Chief Scientific Officer at Weight Watchers.”

THAT’S the one I want to know more about.


Well, if they’re gifting families with 5 Simple Rules for a Healthy-Weight Home as a ‘premium/freebie/gimme’ as touted on CBS News’ The Early Show awhile back fine, that’s just another resource/value-add to the $150 ‘incentive…

After all, WeightWatchers has done considerable due dilligence on ‘responsible enrollment’ for children on their site, calling upon all to be circumspect about long term data on weight-loss programs/nutrition pertaining to kids…

BUT…and this is a big BUT…

…IF there’s a chance they’re seeding mindshare for regimented plans of ‘must-eats and must-buys’ to integrate the WeightWatchers online brand into kids ‘healthy habits’…then don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

That would make the program less about nutrition and more about commercial means to tap into the 62% of IBM’s 128,000 U.S. employees that have signed on to get their $150 free cash stash! (could be both actually, who knows…OR even one of those kids’ wellness fulfillment rebate/mandates growing so popular in state by state regions…deconstructing ad hoc, here…)

Sorry to sound cynical, but I REALLY don’t like seeing adult body fixations trickling into kids’ psyches…

Especially if it might be a “guinea pig” pilot program, untested for long term reverb…

I’m just concerned that kids could end up being MORE obsessed with their ‘obesity/body issues’ counting points and portions instead of plain ol’ common sense food/exercise actions over fads, diets, or regimens.

I mean, c’mon…Have you ever invited someone on WeightWatchers to join you for dinner?

It’s a colossal pain…The conversation turns to mush, as your dinner pal starts citing calorie-counting obsessions of measurements and portions and lengthy menu recitations like brainwashed drones wondering what they can order to stay ‘in plan.’ Bleh.

For kids? That could do a lot more harm than good in the long run, especially if the family becomes ‘dependent’ on thinking some diet plan with lots of products at the ready is their e-ticket to sound mind and body.

Just be circumspect. I don’t care if they ARE your employer, folks, consider, $150 is nothin’ if it creates body-image obsession where there wasn’t any prior, think of the therapy bills! Seriously, though…

I’m hopeful this is simply a win-win, and that IBM and ALL employees will use critical thinking skills to evaluate the merits of each and every program pitched to their families with payola. Regardless:

It’s important to have media literacy…even if the media comes from your job.

p.s. For curious cats, the ‘5-simple rules for a healthy-weight home’ are edited here: (from the CBS article)

“Rule No. 1: Focus on wholesome, nutritious foods
Make some simple substitutions to include foods with whole grains, whole wheat or oats. Switch to whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain breakfast cereals…

Rule No. 2: Include treats
This is important because treats are part of life and they give people pleasure. Miller-Kovach says when you deprive children of treats, kids desire them even more – and are more likely to overeat them when they are available if they don’t have access to them at home…

Rule No. 3: Limit screen time to two hours or less per day
Screen time includes television, video games, computers and DVDs. Miller-Kovach says there is a definite connection between how much time kids sits in front of a screen and how likely they are to be overweight…

Rule No. 4: Try to be active for an hour or more each day
The easiest and most effective strategy to get children to move around more is simply to turn off the screens. Being physically active does not mean just sports or exercise programs. Miller-Kovach says games such as Twister can do the trick. Other favorites are activities such as Frisbee and jumping rope…

Rule No. 5: The rules apply to everyone in the home
You, as the parent, are a role model. Miller-Kovach says children need support physically and emotionally in order to keep their bodies at a healthy weight. It’s important that everyone – children, parents and caregivers – eat the same foods. Whenever possible, try to eat together as a family…”

There. Anything new you didn’t already know? Didn’t think so.

Sure wish I had that $150 though…I could use a ‘wellness’ massage…



  1. Wow that’s a big commitment on IBM’s part, although I do agree that it’s more of a bribe than anything. It’s kinda ridiculous having to bribe some people to take care of their kids!

  2. Working on a program that would collaborate with shaping youth program and would like to discuss.

  3. Hi Andrea, I tried to ping you via e-mail to find out more but received a bounceback…feel free to try me on e-mail amy at shaping youth dot org…’k?

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