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Study Claims Obese Workers Cost Employers Money

October 8, 2010

American workers who are obese are less productive in the workplace, and because of their condition, they are costing their employers billions of dollars each year, according to researchers at Duke-National University of Singapore (Duke-NUS).

The study, which was led by Duke-NUS deputy director of health services and systems Eric Finkelstein, calculated the per capita cost of obesity in the U.S. by analyzing medical expenditures, the amount of time obesity forced employees to be absent from work, and the loss of on-the-job productivity due to obesity–also known as presenteeism.

The sum of those losses, according to Finkelstein and his colleagues, is $73.1 billion dollars a year, or the “equivalent of hiring 1.8 million workers a year” at the nation’s average salary of $42,000 each. Their findings have been published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

According to the AFP, “Taking all three categories into account, the researchers calculated that the per capita cost of obesity was as high as 16,900 dollars a year for women who were roughly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) overweight, or had a body mass index over 40. For obese men with a BMI over 40, the cost was 15,500 dollars a year. By comparison, the cost of all three for normal-weight women and men was around 10,000 dollars a year.”

Presenteeism–including delays between arriving at work and beginning a task, experiencing lapses in concentration, and working lethargically–was “the largest single driver of the costs,” Finkelstein wrote. Furthermore, according to the Duke-NUS researchers, it accounted for 56% of the total costs for obese women and over 66% for men.

The AFP notes that a similar study was completed by researchers at the Brookings Institution last month. That study found that obesity was costing the U.S. approximately $66 billion annually in lost productivity, and as much as $215 billion each year when factors such as disability, premature death, and increase costs required to transport heavier individuals are considered.

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