Obesity Linked to Job Absenteeism, Study Says

A recent study suggests that issues related to obesity and morbid obesity go far beyond the waistline. The health conditions also are associated with increased rates of work absenteeism, with estimated costs of $4.3 billion per year in the United States.

The study, which appears in the December issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is led by John Cawley, Ph.D., of Cornell University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, Ithaca, N.Y. Cawley and other researchers used nationally representative health data to analyze the rates and costs of obesity-related absenteeism.

The study concluded that obese women (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher) were 61 percent more likely to miss work time, compared to women of healthy weight. For morbidly obese women (BMI 40 or higher), the figure rose to 118 percent. For women, obesity was linked to absenteeism across all occupational categories.

For men, the relationship varied by occupation. For example, the likelihood of missed work time among men in professional and sales occupations increased along with weight category. In other occupations – including managers, office workers, and equipment operators – the risk of missed work time increased only for morbidly obese men.

Female workers accounted for about three-fourths of the total cost of obesity-related absenteeism: $3.2 billion. Among women, the professional occupational category made the greatest contribution to obesity-related costs: 28 percent of the total. For men, managers made the greatest contribution: 37 percent.

"Quantifying these costs is important because such information will help employers assess the return on investment associated with interventions to reduce obesity," Dr. Cawley and co-authors write. "Such interventions may be particularly cost effective when targeted to those with the highest costs of obesity-related absenteeism: the morbidly obese, women more than men, and managers more than other occupations.”

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