Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

OK, in the interest of full disclosure I’ve had enough to eat since the beginning of the year to go into hibernation. So I’m entitled a bit to comment on the growing issue of the cost to organizations of leaders and employees who are overweight.

I also have to disclose that I’m married to a registered dietitian who tells me everyday that there are really are no bad foods–only poor diets. At least I still maintain my morning ritual of taking all my inflammatory protective vitamins with Yoohoo and heading out for my morning run at the beach. At long last it seems, CFOs are now my friend when I talk about the cost of poor health habits to the corporate financial waist line.

Here are some things we know about the cost of overweight leaders and talent on absenteeism, presenteeism (being at work but not really being there mentally or physically), disability claims, and health costs:

1. Approximately 44 million American adults (27.6% of men and 33.2% of women) were considered obese in 2005, defined as having a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Baskin ML, Ard J, Franklin F, Allison DB.(2005). Prevalence of obesity in the United States. Obesity Rev. 2005 6, 5-7).

2. The average talent only stays at a job for about 4.5 years, and it actually takes quite a bit longer for health problems due to being overweight to really emerge.

3. Obesity costs U.S. companies more than $13 billion annually in health care costs and is associated with 39 million days lost due to absenteeism, according to the National Business Group on Health (National Business Group on Health www.wbgh.com).

4. Obesity-related claims for short-term disability (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) indicates a growing health cost to employers. For example, most of the STD and LTD claims submitted to insurance companies in 2005 were directly due to obesity (e.g., gastric bypass procedures) and they were more than double those submitted in 2003.

5. Individuals who are overweight and obese are at much higher risk of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Annual medical expenditures are $732 higher, on average for overweight adults than for those with average or below average BMI, according to a recent study published in Health Affairs.

6. Obesity is estimated to account for 43% of all health care spending by US businesses on employees with coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and a range of other fat-related diseases, according to health coaching consultancy Leade Health Inc.

7. Obesity is a greater contributor to chronic health problems and medical spending (30% to 50% higher) compared to either smoking or drinking (Roland Sturm, UCLA/RAND Managed Care Center for Psychiatric Disorders, The Effects of Obesity, Smoking and Drinking on Medical Problems and Costs, Health Affairs, March/April 2002).

8. A recent Duke University study analyzing 11,728 employees over eight years found that overweight workers had 2 times the rate of workers’ compensation claims as their more fit co-workers. The most overweight workers had 13 times more sick days and work-related injuries (Østbye, T, Dement, J. & Krause, K. (2007). Obesity and Workers’ Compensation: Results From the Duke Health and Safety Surveillance System . Archives of Internal Medicine. 167, 766-773).

9. The U. S. 6th District Court determined recently that morbid obesity is generally not a disability for employees and can’t be used as a claim for “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disability act (ADA). This judgment came from a suit from 400-pound Stephen Grindle who claimed he was fired as a driver for Watkins Motor Lines because of his weight.

10. A recent meta-analysis by a group of researchers at John Hopkins University suggest that if the rate of obesity and overweight continues at the current pace, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.

At least in the retail industry, it seems “shrinkage” these days is on an increase….Be well….

One Response to “The Heavy Cost of Obesity At Work”

  1. Affiliated Physicians May 5, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Companies can help their employees combat obesity and the associated health risks by offering employee wellness incentives and programs. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive either. Something simple like having health snack options available is the first step is building a healthier work environment.