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Price of Obesity in the Workplace Exceeds Medical Costs

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A newly published study shows workplace obesity costs more than realized - the price of lost productivity, combined with insurance, presenteeism and time away from work is now estimated at $73.1 billion for full-time employees as the result of health problems associated with being obese.

The study, led by Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore, is the first to put into dollars how much obese workers cost.

"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," said Finkelstein. He adds the findings are important for employers who "shoulder much of the costs of obesity among employees".

Combined Cost of Workplace Obesity

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The study used three factors to determine per capita cost of workplace obesity that they found exceeds medical costs - employee medical expenditures, lost productivity on the job due to health problems (presenteeism), and absence from work (absenteeism).

Women in the workplace who are 100 pounds overweight cost employers $16,900 - for men in the same category, with BMI greater than 40, the cost is $15,500 per capita. Loss of productivity from health problems, even for employees in the normal weight range, was found to exceed medical costs and accounted for 56 percent of the total cost of obesity for women, and 68 percent for men.

"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." The findings show that less obese employees (grade II and III with BMI greater than 35) account for 61 percent of costs but only represent 37 percent of employees.

The study emphasizes the hidden costs of obesity from loss of productivity that the authors say should be taken into consideration when investing in wellness and weight management programs.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
52(10):971-976, October 2010. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e3181f274d2