Safety and OSHA News

Business cost of obesity-related absences: $8.65B per year

A new study calculates the financial hit U.S. businesses take each year because of absenteeism related to obesity. The study also shows how these costs vary from state to state. 

The research from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows that obese workers miss from 1.1 to 1.7 days more per year compared to normal-weight employees. There was little difference in days missed by overweight (not obese) workers compared to normal-weight employees.

So there are productivity ramifications. And previous studies have shown that obesity usually increases the risk of injury and tends to complicate recovery. Also, the duration of workers’ compensation benefits paid out to obese workers is more than five times as long as it is for claims filed by their healthy-weight counterparts.

The new study says obesity accounts for an average of 9.3% of all absenteeism costs for the entire U.S. Individual states vary from 6.5% to 12.6%:

  • States on the lower end include Washington D.C. (6.5%) and Colorado (7.0%), and
  • States on the higher end include Mississippi (11.2%), Louisiana (11.7%) and Arkansas (12.6%).

The average cost per employee in the U.S. per year is $260. States range from $209 to $321:

  • Low: South Dakota ($209), Montana ($213) and Hawaii ($221), and
  • High: New Jersey ($321), Connecticut ($317) and Maryland ($304).

Absenteeism costs per obese employee are largely driven by differences in average wages. Higher costs sometimes coincide with lower obesity rates because a number of states with lower obesity rates happen to have higher average wages (District of Columbia, Connecticut and New Jersey).

These per-employee costs may not seem large, until you factor in that a significant percentage of the U.S. workforce is obese.

The study’s authors point out that their research didn’t look at presenteeism – not being productive while on the job. Previous research showed significant costs of obesity-related presenteeism, exceeding costs of absenteeism due to obesity.

Obesity is determined by body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on weight and height:

  • overweight: 25.0-29.9 BMI, and
  • obese: BMI 30.0 or greater.

The study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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