Nightly News | March 20, 2013
>>> there is a new front over the battle of obesity in this country tonight. a growing problem that cannot be ignored. here's why. with two-thirds of americans now officially listed as either overweight or obese and related health care costs soaring now to $168 billion a year. now one of the nation's big employers, the cvs drugstore chain, is taking a hard line on monitoring its own employees' weight. it's causing an uproar including a big reaction when we posted it on our facebook page just today. the story tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk.
>> reporter: numbers on the scale don't lie. this country needs to lose some weight. but how involved should employers get in the process? a new employee health policy at cvs , the rhode island -based pharmacy company, has triggered lively debate and more than a little anger.
>> i don't necessarily think that's something they should ask employees.
>> i think the cost is just ridiculous.
>> reporter: to take part in the company-sponsored health insurance , cvs employees are now required to have their weight, body fat and glucose levels screened by their doctors. if they do not, their premiums may go up $600 a year. that's $50 a month. in a statement, cvs says the data collected never leaves the doctor's office a and that the goal is to help employees improve their health and manage health-associated costs. right idea, say some, but the wrong approach.
>> they may well want a healthier work force but they are going about it in a destructive way that offends people and violates their privacy.
>> reporter: in a survey of companies 8% used financial penalties to motivate healthy behavior. last year the number jumped to 20%. employers use two different strategies to encourage participation. some, like cvs , use what might be considered the stick approach. while others use the carrot. at this small insurance firm the carrot is money. a quarter of the staff signed up for a weight loss competition with 17 other companies. over three months whoever loses the most in the office gets $3,000. whoever loses the most overall gets $10,000. the contest is voluntary.
>> a lot of people opted not to participate. they didn't want any kind of information about them or their health out there.
>> reporter: as employers' health care costs rise, more companies may not be willing to give employees the choice to opt out of wellness. stephanie gosk, nbc news, new york.