WASHINGTON — Obese workers cost US employers 73.1-billion dollars a year, much of it due to "presenteeism," or being less productive on the job due to health problems, a study published Friday shows.
The dollar sum lost is the "equivalent of hiring 1.8 million workers a year at 42,000 dollars each, which is roughly the average annual wage of US workers," found the study led by Eric Finkelstein, deputy director for health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore.
Finkelstein and his team of researchers tallied medical expenditures, presenteeism and absence from work to put a dollar figure on the per capita cost of obesity among full-time US workers.
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.
Regardless of weight, presenteeism was found to be "the largest single driver of the costs," said the study, which was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
It accounted for 56 percent of the total cost for obese women and more than two-thirds of the total for normal weight men.
Presenteeism was defined as the average amount of time between arriving at work and starting work on days when an employee is not feeling well, and the average number of times an employee lost concentration, repeated a job, worked more slowly than usual, felt fatigued or "did nothing at work."
Medical expenditures due to obesity were calculated using a nationally representative survey from 2006.
Absenteeism and presenteeism were assessed using the 2008 US National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS), in which respondents self-reported days off work due to ill health, and loss of productivity at work for health reasons.
A study published last month found that obesity costs the US economy at least 215 billion dollars a year in direct and indirect impacts, including the three criteria looked at in Finkelstein's study and others including disability, premature death and even higher transportation costs to accommodate heavier weights.
In that study, researchers at the Brookings Institution estimated that obesity was costing the United States up to 66 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index -- calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height squared in meters -- greater than 30.
In health terms, it means a person is at greater risk for a whole host of maladies, ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
According to a study published in August in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, more than one in four US adults is obese.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »