Cardiologist’s plan: “Fat people need not apply for jobs at Cleveland Clinic”

cleveland clinic

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

For the past two years, the Cleveland Clinic has refused to hire smokers.  This non-profit American research and treatment health centre (consistently rated as the #1 heart institute in North America) introduced this groundbreaking no-smoking hiring initiative as a way to walk the talk about the health and wellness of not only the 50,000 patients admitted each year, but of its 1,800 employees.

But now the head of the Cleveland Clinic says he wants to take this bold hiring policy one step further – and some are saying this would be going too far.  Dr. Delos (Toby) Cosgrove, the heart surgeon who is the Clinic’s CEO, told the New York Times that if it were up to him, he would not only stop hiring smokers. He would also stop hiring overweight people.

Dr. Cosgrove maintains that health professionals should be as proactive in addressing people’s weight issues as they are in pushing them to quit smoking.  He claims:

“Our anti-obesity efforts have none of the urgency of our anti-smoking efforts. We should declare obesity a disease, and say we’re going to help you get over it.”

His theory: obesity can lead to early deaths and skyrocketing health dangers.

The Clinic chief was also quoted in the Wall Street Journal challenging U.S. federal government employment protections for obese people under the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying it could hinder efforts to address the problem.

But he’s willing to walk the talk. The Cleveland Clinic is among only about 10% of American employers that help cover bariatric surgery costs for employees. The hospital reimburses employees their co-payment (about $3,000) over five years providing they participate in follow-up care.  The Clinic has spent $10 million since 2003 on the employee benefit, one of several health and wellness initiatives offered to its 40,000 employees.

They have also eliminated fried foods, removed soda and candy from vending machines, and subsidized Weight Watchers and fitness programs for its employees. Dr. Cosgrove adds:

“In the past nine months, we’ve lost 110,000 pounds across the organization, which I think is an amazing tribute to the program.”

Responsibility for one’s personal behaviour choices is what Dr. Cosgrove is pushing.

And no wonder. He’s a cardiac surgeon who has spent a lifetime trying to save the lives of patients for whom heart disease seemed the logical endpoint after decades of poor lifestyle decisions. He maintains that we expect others will somehow magically provide a pill or a procedure to fix whatever ails us, and that we prefer to outsource taking care of our own bodies to something called the health care system.

Consider that people in their 50s today are about 20 pounds heavier on average than 50-somethings were just 30 years ago.  Dr. Cosgrove now believes that this extra weight has caused a sharp increase in chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Cosgrove’s would-be hiring approach certainly poses some problems. Is it too severe?  Is its focus too narrow? He acknowledges that any effort to attack obesity will inevitably involve making value judgments and even limiting people’s choices – just as Western society has already done to smokers.

And he’s not alone.

In the U.K, patients who refuse to stop drinking are now being removed from liver transplant waiting lists, as physicians start demanding that their patients take equal responsibility for their part in expensive, resource-draining procedures – procedures that have a high failure rate among those who are still drinking.

Demanding individual responsibility for poor behaviour choices can have dramatic and far-reaching implications for all health care decisions.  And if influential people like Dr. Cosgrove get their way, our unhealthy choices may even affect our chances of landing a job someday.

But it’s tricky.  Our culture has changed dramatically over the past few decades:

  • We’re taking in more calories than we’re burning off.
  • Gym classes and even recess have been cut in schools.
  • We live sedentary lives all day at work and later at home in front of the computer or TV screen.
  • We drive cars everywhere instead of walking or biking.
  • We eat appalling amounts of pervasively advertised high-fat, high-salt, low-fibre, highly processed food-style products.
  • We work such long hours that we’re too exhausted to even think about exercising.
  • We’ve got multi-tasking down to such a fine art that our stress level doesn’t even seem abnormal anymore.

But economics journalist David Leonheart, writing in the New York Times, argues that the solutions to obesity problems are beyond the control of any one overweight individual.

“They involve a different sort of responsibility: civic — even political — responsibility. They depend on the kind of collective action that helped cut our smoking rates nearly in half.

“Anyone who smokes in an elementary school hallway today would be thrown out of the building. And taxes on tobacco have skyrocketed. But if you serve an obesity-inducing, taxpayer-funded school meal to a kindergartner, you would fit right in.”

See also:  Live Long & Prosper by Eating Responsibly

What do you think of Dr. Cosgrove’s hiring ban idea?

7 thoughts on “Cardiologist’s plan: “Fat people need not apply for jobs at Cleveland Clinic”

  1. Dr Cosgrove is misguided -and tempting an EEOC Federal Discrimination suit from his employees or potential employees.

    The mission of health care organizations should be to educate and help not to discriminate and punish. Obesity will not be the last “costly” disease on the agenda – diabetes, heart disease, and cancer have been linked to lifestyle choices, too.

    Watch out for too much Big Brother oversight from employers -their prime goal is to save money. Cosgrove is stupid to be so transparent, given the position he holds as CEO. The legal department needs to reign him in.

    Shame on you Cosgrove.


  2. This information is interesting – wonder if he’ll get away with this. Imagine if he did this with blacks or women or people with high blood pressure…


  3. I totally understand that Cosgrove wants healthier people..but is thin really going to prevent inherited heart disease, and other inherited diseases that cause a person to stay big, heavy, fat.

    Cosgrove needs to watch himself…because there might be many current, former and future employees that might want to see his head on a platter..God made us in HIS if God’s image is that of being heavier, even fat, it’s ok with God..God controls people..not people controlling people..Cosgrove, did you just establish yourself as being God? Take that up with the man upstairs!

    What we have here folks, at the Cleveland Clinic is a DICTATORSHIP, communism, in the most primary form..his, Cosgrove’s..and all the cronies who work for him…and are his direct reports.

    I’m disgusted with his baloney…What about his WOMANIZING? Should we judge employees based on how many AFFAIRS within a MARRIAGE they have had …and broken up marriages??? Hey, what about you Cosgrove? Didn’t you live on campus for quite a while because the wife kicked you out for screwing your girlfriend…oops, having a girlfriend..OMG!


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  5. Cosgrove is probably ugly. I don’t like ugly. He should be fired. Is this the criteria we should use against people to further an agenda? I don’t think it is.

    I could argue all the logical, moral and privacy issues against something as stupid as this, but fat is the buzz, so people like Cosgrove jump on the bandwagon.

    Consider this: If fat is a disease, and the majority of fat people are living below the poverty level, Cosgrove will never see them as patients anyway. They have no medical insurance.

    Again, if being fat is a disease, then will anyone with any disease not be eligible for employment? How about someone with anorexia, or simply too thin?

    Obviously, being fat is not a good thing, certainly detrimental to one’s health. Punishing people for having a weight problem is abominable. What I see is a massive class action law suit in the making.


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