Study finds that obese workers cost employers thousands in extra medical costs every year; Kentucky ranks ninth in obesity

A morbidly obese employee costs his or her employer approximately $4,000 more in health care and related costs every year than an employee of normal weight, according to a study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Kentucky ranks ninth in obesity among the states.

As might be expected, the study also found that obese workers with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol brought more costs than obese workers without those conditions. “Someone who is overweight or obese and also has diabetes is more likely to file a short-term disability claim compared to someone who doesn’t have diabetes but is overweight or obese,” said Karen Van Nuys, Ph.D., lead co-author of the study and economist at Precision Health Economics in Los Angeles.

The study showed that an employee with a body mass index of 35 has almost twice the risk of filing a short-term disability claim or workers’ compensation claim than an employee with a BMI of 25. A BMI of 30 or more indicates obesity. While employees who are of average weight incur approximately $3,830 each year in medical claims, sick days, short-term disability and workers compensation, and morbidly obese employees incur about $8,067 every year.

The researchers analyzed three years of data from almost 30,000 workers, including “self-reported employee health information, medical visits and prescription claim and employer-reported data on absenteeism, short term disability and workers compensation claims.”

“Overweight/obesity are just one of several modifiable risk factors in the workplace—but ones that are most problematic right now because they’re getting worse by the minute,” said Ron Goetzel, Ph.D., of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Truven Health Analytics. 

Van Nuys and Goetzel said their report is not meant to encourage employers to discriminate against overweight people, but Goetzel said employers should “invest in robust, comprehensive health promotion programs for their employees that include physical activity, healthy eating, stress and depression management and control of blood pressure and diabetes.” He added, “If you do those in combination and you do them right, not only is [this type of intervention] cost-effective, in some cases it is cost-beneficial, so that there is potentially even a return on investment here for employers.” (Read more)

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