Obese workers cost employers over $ 73bn a year

Updated: Oct 08, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: Obese workers cost their American employers a whopping USD 73.1 billion annually, a new study has claimed.

"Presenteeism", or being less productive on the job as a result of health problems, makes up the largest share of those costs, found the study carried out by researchers at the DukeUniversity of Singapore.
Collectively, the per capita costs of obesity are as high as USD 16,900 for obese women with a body mass index(BMI) over 40 (roughly 45kg overweight) and USD 15,500 for obese men in the same BMI class, according to the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Lead researcher Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems research at the university, said presenteeism accounted for as much as 56 per cent of the total cost of obesity for women, and 68 per cent for men.

Even among those in the normal weight range, the value of lost productivity due to health problems far exceeded the medical costs, he said.

Finkelstein said: "Much work has already shown the high costs of obesity in medical expenditures and absenteeism, but our findings are the first to measure the incremental costs of presenteeism for obese individuals separately by BMI class and gender among full time employees.

"Given that employers shoulder much of the costs of obesity among employees, these findings point to the need to identify cost-effective strategies that employers can offer to reduce obesity rates and costs for employees and families."

For their study, the researchers analysed three factors such as presenteeism, absence from work and medical expenditures to put a dollar figure on the per capita cost of obesity among full-time US workers.
Presenteeism is defined by the loss of productivity of workers due to the delay in arriving office and starting the work late when they are not well.

They estimated the extent to which obesity-related health problems affected absenteeism, work productivity and medical cost by using survey data from the 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the 2008 US National Health and Wellness Survey.

They assessed included days of leaves the employees have took due to of their illness and other factors such as delay in arriving office, average frequency of losing concentration, repeating a job, working more slowly than usual and feeling fatigued at work.

When all costs of obesity are combined, individuals with a body mass index greater than 35 -- grades II and III obese -- disproportionately accounted for 61 per cent of the costs, yet they only represented 37 per cent of the obese population.

"The disproportionately high per capita and total cost of grade II and grade III obesity is particularly concerning given that these BMI ranges are the fastest-growing subset of the obese population," said Marco daCosta DiBonaventura of Kantar Health, a co-author of the study.

With a burgeoning obese population in the US, the study has important implications for employers, as they are faced with increasing costs to insure full-time workers.

"Our study provides evidence of yet another cost of obesity," said Finkelstein. "Employers should consider both the medical and productivity costs of obesity when thinking about investments in weight management or other wellness programs."

Meanwhile, the researchers recommended employers to promote healthy foods in the workplace, encourage a culture of wellness to avoid this loss.

PTI