The cost of obesity among U.S. full-time employees is estimated to be $73.1 billion, according to a new study by a Duke University obesity researcher, published last month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This is the first study to quantify the total value of lost job productivity as a result of health problems and its finding that productivity loss is more costly than medical expenditures is bad news for employers.

Lead researcher Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore, and his colleagues found that “presenteeism,” or the lost productivity incurred when employees try to work despite health problems, cost employers a whopping $12.1 billion per year, nearly twice as much as their medical cost. Presenteeism was measured and monetized as the lost time between arriving at work and starting work on days when the employee is not feeling well, and the average frequency of losing concentration, repeating a job, working more slowly than usual, feeling fatigued at work, and doing nothing at work. The study included data on individuals who are normal weight, overweight and obese, with sub-groupings based on BMI.

When all costs of obesity are combined, individuals with a body mass index greater than 35, considered grades II and III obese, which are the fastest growing subsets of the obese population, disproportionately account for 61 percent of the costs, yet they only represent 37 percent of the obese population.
Finkelstein recommends that employers promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness from the CEO on down, and provide economic and other incentives to those employees who show clear signs of improving their health via weight loss, maintaining a healthy weight, and/or participation in health behavior activities that have a strong correlation with health improvements, such as walk-a-thons or gym attendance.

Facts you should know about obesity

Recent research by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has found:
• Nearly six Workers’ Comp claims were filed per 100 workers of normal BMI, compared with more than 11 claims filed per 100 of the heaviest workers

• Total medical care costs of obese workers are 300% higher than non-obese workers in the first year, rising to 500% higher by year five

• Obesity is associated with a broad range of health problems including hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems and some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)

This material is provided as general information and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice.
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by Carl Zeutzius, CWCA
UNICO Group Inc

Carl Zeutzius has 18 years of experience in helping businesses address their risk management needs.
He is a Certified work comp advisor and UNICO is the only agency in the state with that designation.