Health Survey Gives Oregon Workers Weight Option

A weight-related question will remain on a wellness questionnaire for Oregon state workers, but employees next year will be given an alternative to sharing their waist size.

This year’s version of the Health Engagement Model online health questionnaire required employees to measure and report their waist circumference, which can signal a person’s risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease.

Many workers found the question offensive, so Public Employees’ Benefit Board directors explored the possibility of having it removed.

The board, however, was told by its staff Tuesday that health insurance providers can’t eliminate the waist question because it’s part of their standard, nationally used health surveys, the Statesman Journal newspaper reported.

But workers will be given a choice. If they don’t want to measure their waist circumference, they will be allowed to instead report their Body Mass Index.

That option did not satisfy state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, a non-voting board director who has been critical of the waist circumference question.

“I would submit, we are the customer,” Johnson said. “We want to make this easy for people and less humiliating.”

Despite her complaint, directors approved the 2013 Health Engagement Model plan with the question asking for either a worker’s waist circumference or their BMI.

“I think this is a good compromise,” said board chairman Sean Kolmer, assistant health policy adviser to Gov. John Kitzhaber. “This is about choice.”

The 2013 Health Engagement Model will ask state workers to complete an online health assessment and then perform two wellness activities.

The activities can include taking an online wellness lesson, receive a needed health screening such as a mammogram or colonoscopy, or participate in a physical activity challenge. Employees required to join a smoking cessation program or weight management program based on the results of their health assessment can count those activities toward their goal of two.

People who successfully participate receive an extra $17.50 in their monthly paychecks. People who don’t will have an extra $100 added to their medical deductible.