Study: Obese Workers Cost Employers $73 Billion Per Year

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Obesity is expensive — for the person living with it, for the health-care system and now, according to a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, for employers. The U.S. economy suffers a $73.1 billion hit as a result of an obese work force.

Researchers from Duke University followed normal-weight, overweight and obese full-time workers, measuring the financial consequences of medical expenditures, lost productivity on the job because of health problems (referred to as presenteeism) and missed work due to health problems (absenteeism). Across the board, obese workers had the most expensive health care, the most interruption to their productivity when on the job and the most days absent. (More on More Obesity Fallout: Nearly 50 Million Americans with Arthritis)

The more obese the worker, the more expensive he or she was to the company. The study found that while those with a body mass index, or BMI, over 35 account for 37% of the obese population, they were responsible for 61% of the total cost of obesity to employers. (Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher; morbid obesity is defined as having a BMI of 40 or above.)

“Presenteeism” — a lack of productivity while at work — accounted for 68% of the cost for obese men and 56% for obese women. Lest this reinforce the stereotype that heavy people are lazy, it should be noted that lost productivity among normal-weight people was also high and exceeded medical costs.

“Our study provides evidence of yet another cost of obesity,” said obesity researcher and study author Dr. Eric Finkelstein. “Employers should consider both the medical and productivity costs of obesity when thinking about investments in weight management or other wellness programs.” (More on Study: America Is Officially the Fattest Developed Country in the World).

It should be noted that the study was funded by Allergan, Inc. — the manufacturer of Lap-Band, a device used during weight loss surgery.

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