The following editorial appeared in the Miami Herald:

It is none of our business but...we can't resist. Alabama is getting tough with state workers who are too fat. Beginning in 2010, state employees who are obese and don't work on getting fit will have to pay $25 a month for insurance that is free to other workers.

The State Employees Insurance Board approved the plan last week. Maybe it is following the example of airline companies that recently began charging passengers for overweight luggage. But this is a bad approach to an admittedly worrisome problem. Yes, it is a good idea to encourage employees to improve their health, get in shape, be fit.

In Alabama, fried food is endemic to the culture. Everything is fried there, from grits to okra to mouth-watering chicken — and tea comes presweetened. This kind of food is fat-inducing, and it takes an iron will just to resist.

However, being overweight — even obese — is not necessarily linked to one's diet. For many overweight people, weight gain is more about genes than diet. On the other side of the coin, many people who are of "average" weight are afflicted with the kind of medical issues — diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, etc. — that are typically associated with obesity. If the concern is about poor health, why not focus on health issues instead of weight?

This is a situation where the carrot is better than the stick. Offering a plaque, a reward, bonus, cash or recognition for improvement creates positive incentive and good karma. Assessing a cash penalty for lack of improvement is a negative incentive. It can work, but there may not be full buy-in of the concept.

Any Florida officials thinking of following Alabama's example should take note: Don't confuse good health with excess pounds.


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.