OBESITY AND THE WORKPLACE
In recent years, the prevalence of obesity has become a significant health issue in developed countries including Australia & the USA. In the US more than one-third of adults have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher and meet the clinical definition of “obese.” Additionally, the American Medical Association recently officially recognized obesity as a disease, raising even more awareness for this important health concern.
Obesity not only increases the risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, but it also raises medical costs. Obesity-related medical expenses cost Americans $147 billion per year—more than smoking- and alcohol-related costs combined. Businesses and nonprofit organizations are directly affected by this cost, as they bear a large share of employee healthcare costs. In addition, obesity presents other potential risks for employers and their workers.
Obesity’s effect on employee health and its related costs are well established and top of mind for most organizations. There are other workplace risks associated with obesity that may be less recognized but are also important to understand and address in order to maintain a healthy workforce and better control costs.
In addition to increasing the risk of other health issues, obesity may increase the risk of work-related injury. The Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety (LMRIS) has conducted research to better understand how obesity impacts the workplace.
The Institute’s Center for Injury Epidemiology (CIE) recently examined whether obesity is associated with on-the-job injury risk. Researchers analyzed nationally representative survey data and followed the same individuals over a 12-year period. Findings indicated that obesity was associated with a 25 percent higher risk of work-related injury, independent of other factors such as age, work hours, and occupational hazards. This risk potentially translates into higher employee absence and workers compensation-related claims costs for employers. According to a study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, medical claim costs were 5.3 times greater for obese employees versus non-obese employees after five years.