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Obesity, Diabetes Interfere with Workplace Productivity

According to a new study appearing in the May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, obese workers with type 2 diabetes report less productivity on the job than their normal-weight co-workers, and diabetes itself also has an effect on work impairment.

In a survey of 7,338 working adults with or at risk for diabetes, participants answered questions about missed work time, reduced on-the-job effectiveness and impairment in daily activities. The analysis found that being obese and having diabetes predicted on-the-job problems with productivity.

“We obtained information directly from individuals on how effective they were at the workplace to provide their perspective of the impact of diabetes and obesity on patients’ lives,” said study co-author Kathleen Fox, Ph.D.

Obese people with type 2 diabetes experienced the most work impairment, losing 11 percent to 15 percent of work time – about 5.9 hours per week – because of health problems that affected productivity on the job, said Fox, president of Strategic Healthcare Solutions LLC.

In comparison, normal-weight participants at low risk for diabetes reported losing only 9 percent of work time – about 3.6 hours per week – due to health problems.

Obese workers with type 2 diabetes also experienced the most problems off the job, reporting impairment during 20 percent to 34 percent of their daily activities, like shopping, exercising and childcare.

Lifestyle Intervention as an Investment

The study supports previously published research that “the heavier people are, the more lost productivity at work,” said Anne Wolf, an instructor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine who specializes in researching the economic impact of obesity. What differed was that researchers found an independent effect of diabetes on productivity, Wolf added.

“From an employer’s perspective, this study provides evidence that workplace wellness programs that include weight loss and weight management would be beneficial for obese employees with or at risk for diabetes,” Fox said.

“Employers who spend money in a lifestyle intervention will find their investment returned to them in the form of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism,” Wolf agreed.

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