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Obese Employees Cost around $4,000 Extra for Companies

Update Date: May 14, 2014 03:01 PM EDT

Obesity is a disease that not only affects the patients. Researchers have studied the side effects of being obese on one's health, healthcare costs and ability to work. In a new study, researchers estimated just how much more obese employees cost companies in comparison to normal weight employees. They calculated that obese workers cost an additional $4,000 per year in health care and related expenses.

For this study, the researchers examined data on nearly 30,000 employees who were mostly men. The information on their health, which included body mass index (BMI) measurement, medical visits and prescription claims were all self-reported. The employers provided information on absenteeism, short-term disability and workers compensation claims.

The researchers compared workers who had a BMI of 25, which is normal, to workers with a BMI of 35, which is considered obese. After calculating the expenses that came from medical claims, sick days, short-term disability and workers compensation, the researchers reported that a normal weight employee costs an average of $3,830 per year. The costs for having a morbidly obese worker spiked up to $8,067. The researchers explained that the difference in these costs was not shocking to find since obese people have a higher risk of developing health complications.

"For example, 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 coauthor and economist at Precision Health Economics in Los Angeles, CA reported by Medical Xpress.

Ron Goetzel, Ph.D. of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Truven Health Analytics, who was not a part of the study, commented that companies could effectively help reduce these costs by offering more intervention programs. When these programs are implemented well, they can effectively help employees lose weight. He added that comprehensive health promotion programs that combine dieting and physical activity with stress and depression management are highly effective. These programs also educate employees about the importance of managing existing health conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

"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," stated Ron Goetzel. "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."

The study, "The association between employee obesity and employer costs: evidence from a panel of U.S. employers," was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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