By John Sceppa, B.S., RPA-C, ProMedical Weight Loss, LLC
Recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) demonstrate that almost 74% of American adults aged 20 and over are obese or considered overweight.
Obesity has been associated with health concerns including Prediabetes, Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, Depression, Hypertension, High Cholesterol, Sleep Apnea, Respiratory problems, Stroke, Gallbladder disease, Arthritis, Gastroesophageal reflux disease, Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and some types of Cancer.
The American workforce has transitioned from predominantly manual labor to more sedentary desk jobs. This shift has been a significant detriment to the obesity problem. All businesses, large and small, may wish to consider the fact that optimizing employee health derives a significant return on investment in the form of productivity.
Obesity is classified by a metric known as Body Mass Index- commonly referred to as BMI. BMI is a type of health classification system that categorizes individuals based on their weight and height as either normal, overweight, or obese. Medical literature consistently demonstrates a strong association between the level of BMI and medical expenditures. These include pharmaceutical costs along with productivity metrics including absenteeism, short term disability and workmen’s compensation.
A recent longitudinal study of employees and spouses in a manufacturing company found that medical and pharmaceutical costs increased significantly per BMI unit above normal body weight (BMI < 25). It is important to note that modifiable health risks associated with obesity including high blood pressure, high blood glucose and high cholesterol were proportionately associated with increased medical care costs.
Obesity is associated with a significant increase in absenteeism among US workers which costs the nation an estimated $8.65 billion per year. Compared to normal weight employees, individuals with a higher BMI demonstrated an increase in total medical expenses from $3863.34 to $7924.53 per year noted in a 2011 study. Workdays lost to short-term disability (STD) follow a similar pattern with respect to BMI. Data also demonstrates a clear correlation between workplace safety and BMI. Reported accidental events and worker's compensation claims were twice as high. In addition, medical claims and indemnity costs were 11 times higher when compared to average weight employees.
Beyond the physical effects of obesity, there exists a tremendous psychosocial burden linked to decreased quality of life for those affected as well as increased incidence of depression. Obese individuals are less likely to obtain employment, receive lower salaries with less frequent promotions and report less satisfaction with their employment.
Multiple studies clearly demonstrate an association between BMI and work productivity along with the associated increased medical expenses. Employers and the health care designees should consider implementing a workplace wellness program to focus on lifestyle modification interventions. A program consisting of healthy dietary education, physical activity and behavioral therapy should all be implemented. Although many online programs exist with internet sites and smart phone applications, overall weight loss appears modest as compared to face to face contact with the provider.
In summary, corrective and preventive treatment of obesity will have a profoundly positive impact on for both quality of life and productivity for those affected for many years to come. This is undoubtedly a significant return on investment for both employers and the employee on whom they depend on every day.