Obesity Makes You Suck at Your Job

Nearly 40% of adults are obese – this is the highest rate the US has ever seen.

This is according to the newest report from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that was released this month and marks an almost 10% increase over the past 15 years.

The prevalence of obesity was found to be highest among middle-aged adults than among younger adults, but all adult (20+ years old) age groups had rates between 30-40%.

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WHY DO WE CARE?

Rising rates of overweight and obesity are accompanied in adulthood by a higher risk of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease – all of which carry with them substantial healthcare costs.

In 2008 it was estimated that the annual medical cost of obesity in the US alone was $147 BILLION. Compare this to other countries, like Germany which had costs of $9.2 billion in the same year and has generally the same combined rate of overweight and obesity as the US (although the US has higher obesity rates).

However, the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity also come with indirect costs resulting from morbidity and mortality.

Indirect costs:  the losses from reduced work productivity due to short-term and long-term inability to work

Obesity is associated with increased risk of temporary work loss – sick leave (absenteeism) and reduced productivity while at work (presenteeism). It is also associated with permanent work loss – disability pension and premature death.

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WHAT DO WE KNOW?

Although actual estimated dollar amounts varied in all of the utilized studies, most found that excess weight entailed substantial indirect costs.

Compared with employees who are considered of normal weight, individuals with obesity missed more time from work and worked less productively, resulting in higher indirect costs.

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Absenteeism

Defined as time away from work, in this case due to overweight and obesity, but more generally as unscheduled employee absences from the workplace.

The majority of studies assessed the annual costs of short-term sick leave from work by comparing sick leave days of employees with normal weight with those with overweight or obesity.

The excess costs of overweight were estimated between $54-161 and obesity-related costs between $89-1,586. Other studies calculated the total yearly expenses due to absenteeism for normal, overweight, and obese samples. The cost for overweight ranged from $29-5.132 and $57-6,759 for obese per person.

For those studies who differentiated between genders, costs for men were found to be higher than for women.

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Presenteeism

Defined as reduced productivity while at work, in this case due to overweight and obesity, but more generally the practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, or personal issues.

Costs among individuals with overweight ranged between -$611-1,669 and obesity ranged between $11-4,175.

Combined costs of absenteeism and presenteeism were estimated at $5,515 for overweight and from $6,402-$9,104 depending on class of obesity (BMI 30-35, 35-40, or > 40).

Insurance Claims

Measured as indemnity claims (request for compensation for a loss or injury) or workers’ compensation due to work absence. For worker’s compensation, the additional costs of overweight were estimated to be $180 and for the various classes of obesity from $525-707.

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Short- and Long-Term Disability

Excess costs due to obesity was associated between $21-439, although lifetime cost of disability and disability pensions varied substantially depending on the methodology used ($2,649-31,037 for overweight and $3,115-32,668 for obese).

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

As shown in the graph above, excess workdays lost due to smoking has been cut nearly in half since the early 1980s. Since that time, substantial public health initiatives have been made to decrease smoking rates among adults and adolescents, as smoking is a habit commonly started prior to adulthood (90% start before age 18).

Exact figures are a little muddy in this area. Nevertheless, studies consistently confirm that overweight and obesity have substantial short- and long-term direct and indirect costs both on the micro- and macroeconomic levels.

Consequently, an increase in more robust public health initiatives, together the effective company weight management programs, could considerably improve productivity among workers who are currently overweight or obese and prevent future generations from contributing to the trend.

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