Should health be a factor in hiring prospective employees? The short answer is yes, and in many ways it is a very troubling prospect. Considering that Union Pacific recently mandated their employees to quit smoking, companies are increasingly concerned about the rising health care costs associated with their employees. They have even made it a point to encourage employees to be more health conscious with internal ad campaigns promoting exercise and maintaining a healthy diet.

It is one small step towards an institutionalized approach to eliminate the unhealthy from their ranks. In the short-term, the goal of promoting healthy employees is worthwhile; nonetheless, the goal becomes twisted with Walmart creating policies to discourage the hiring of unhealthy job applicants. There is likely a significant pool of Walmart applicants who are poor and, as a consequence, unhealthy. Should these people be unfairly penalized for the unhealthy conditions in which they live in?

Personal responsibility is something Americans cherish as an ideal, but the truth is that people are driven largely by their local environments. A recent study found a higher density of fast food chains in poorer neighborhoods which is thought to contribute to the obesity epidemic found among the residents of those regions. Furthermore, there is a noticeable lack of grocery stores to practice good nutrition along with a lack of green space to promote exercise. It will be this group of people who are most vulnerable to the effect of these “health policies” and will be further marginalized by their potential employers.

To say the least, Wal-Mart should consider the possible discriminatory implications for rejecting job applicants on the basis of their health. This country is probably ten to fiften years away from genetic profiling in which babies will have their genetic makeups follow them like social security numbers. It is important to consider that the policies set today will have wide ramifications for the so-called “genetic generation.” Eugenics is a dirty word in science, but may some day become a reality simply because of rising health care costs.

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