Obese Workers Cost Workplace More Than Insurance,
Absenteeism, According to New Study
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 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental
is the first study to quantify the total value of lost job productivity
as a result of health problems, which it finds is more costly than
Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems
research at Duke-National University of Singapore, the study quantified
the per capita cost of obesity among full-time workers by considering
three factors: employee medical expenditures, lost productivity on the
job due to health problems (presenteeism), and absence from work
the per capita costs of obesity are as high as $16,900 for obese women
with a body mass index (BMI) over 40 (roughly 100 pounds overweight)
and $15,500 for obese men in the same BMI class. Presenteeism makes up
the largest share of those costs. Finkelstein found that presenteeism
accounted for as much as 56 percent of the total cost of obesity for
women, and 68 percent for men. Even among those in the normal weight
range, the value of lost productivity due to health problems far
exceeded the medical costs.
part of this secondary analysis of the 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel
Survey and the 2008 US National Health and Wellness Survey,
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
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,
also associate research professor of global health at the Duke Global
Health Institute. "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."
all costs of obesity are combined, individuals with a body mass index
greater than 35 (grades II and III obese) disproportionately account
for 61 percent of the costs, yet they only represent 37 percent 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.
burgeoning obese population in the U.S., the study has important
implications for employers, as they are faced with increasing costs to
insure full-time workers.
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."
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
study was supported with funding from Allergan, Inc. Other researchers
involved in the study include Marco daCosta DiBonaventura, Somali M.
Burgess and Brent C. Hale.
For more information on Duke
University, visit http://www.duke.edu.