More employers launch high-tech wellness programs, sparking privacy concerns

Across the U.S., more employers, out to control ballooning health-care costs, are handing out activity trackers and rolling out high-tech wellness programs that aim to keep closer tabs on workers’ exercise, sleep and nutrition.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Disney, Whole Foods and dozens of other companies have introduced programs to reward employees for meeting certain criteria on health indicators such as weight-to-height ratio and blood pressure. Some incentivize workers to hit a target number of step counts and eat well. The evidence is mixed, but many companies say encouraging workers to be more proactive on wellness reduces health spending.

While many employees are fans of the programs, which often sync with apps that track user data, others are raising questions about who sees such data, where it could end up and whether such programs discriminate against those who don’t participate. In addition to tests measuring indicators like blood pressure, wellness programs often involve taking detailed online health assessments that can include questions on alcohol consumption and pregnancy plans.

It’s illegal for an employer to force you to provide health information as part of a wellness program. However, many employers offer generous financial incentives to provide such information, which critics say punish those who opt out and can act as a kind of coercion.

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