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Idea: Wellness Programs Instead of Soda Taxes

According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is adding a competition component to his city employee wellness program. Participants in Chicago, Illinois will compete against participants San Antonio, Texas, “to see which workforce is healthier,” the article states. Cash incentives will be awarded and soda machines in Chicago government buildings will provide calorie information. Mayor Emanuel told the Tribune that competition is a better way to emphasize personal responsibility for health, a component he said is lacking in soda bans (like the one recently adopted in New York City).

The details of the competition program are still being worked out, but “losing weight and quitting smoking [are] likely benchmarks that could earn a worker money,” says the article.

Notably, and as the Tribune points out, the competition and incentive portion of the wellness program is paid for by some of the largest beverage companies: Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. “The nationwide soda-lobbying group will also pay $1,000 to individual workers who meet as-yet unspecified health care goals.”

Still, the program’s focus on teaching individuals to engage in healthy behaviors—like regular exercise and proper nutrition—rather than restricting certain foods or drinks is key to creating lasting solutions to the obesity and chronic disease epidemics. 

Whether the program is a success is yet to be seen, but its underlying sentiment is an important one. Federal-level legislation like WHIP and PHIT, which provide tax incentives for healthy behaviors are another example of this. There have been numerous tax-incentive proposals for healthy behaviors in at the state-level in the past year as well, but have been difficult to pass because of large budget deficits.

“Financial incentives for healthy behaviors are an effective means of encouraging Americans toward healthier lifestyles,” says Helen Durkin, Executive Vice President of Global Public Policy at IHRSA. “They improve quality of life, and lower health care costs for both citizens and governments.”

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