Group Advocates Free-Market Solution to Obesity Crisis

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - A taxpayer watchdog group is trying to rally support for the WHIP Act, a bill intended to improve workers' health by encouraging them to exercise on the company's dime. (WHIP stands for Workforce Health Improvement Program.)

The legislation would lower the tax burden on working Americans, while providing a free-market solution to America's obesity crisis, said the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

Instead of creating "big-government" programs to fight obesity, the WHIP Act would create incentives for employers to offer their workers fitness subsidies -- such as paying part of their gym memberships, for example.

But under the WHIP Act, those subsidies would not be counted as part of an employee's taxable income.

Current tax law requires employees to pay income tax on any "fringe benefit" subsidy, including fitness center dues, unless the fitness center is located at the employee's worksite.

But many companies, especially small and medium-sized firms, cannot provide on-site fitness centers, and CCAGW says workers at those firms are victims of a discriminatory tax code that hinders their ability to benefit from corporate fitness-center subsidies.

"The WHIP Act would level the playing field for employers of all sizes, promote tax fairness for all working Americans, and provide a private-sector solution in the public health fight against obesity and inactivity," CCAGW said.

The WHIP Act was introduced in the Senate by John Cornyn (R-Texas) and in the House by Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste is the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste.

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