Overweight Workers Cost US Companies $113 Billion in Productivity Losses

October 18, 2011Marketsby EW News Desk Team



Obese American workers have cost companies more than US$113 billion in productivity losses each year from absenteeism, according to a Gallup poll released on Monday.

A recent study by Gallup has found that overweight or obese full-time workers with chronic health conditions miss 450 million more days of work each year than would healthy workers, costing businesses US$153 billion annually lost in productivity. In the same study, it was revealed that 86 percent of workers are obese, or have other chronic health issues.

Gallup polled more than 100,000 full-time workers and found that two-thirds of the work force is either overweight or obese and nearly half are both overweight and have at least one chronic health problem.

Even among those of normal weight, chronic conditions are prevalent, as nearly 60% of those workers report a continuing health issue. Chronic health problems included having ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months.

“The $153 billion in lost productivity estimated in this analysis would increase if it included presenteeism, which is when employees go to work but are less productive in their jobs because of poor health or wellbeing. Including part-time employees would also add to the estimate of costs in lost productivity,” said Gallup. The report also makes reference to another study by the Milken Institute that estimates the figure to be much higher at $1.1 trillion, while an additional $277 billion is spent on treatment.

According to the poll, only about one in seven employees -- 13.9 percent of the workforce -- is of normal weight with no chronic condition, logging an average of just .34 unhealthy days per month, or 4 sick days per year. Those who were overweight or obese but who had no chronic conditions reported an average .36 unhealthy days per month.

In contrast, more than 30 percent of the population who reported being overweight or obese with one to two chronic conditions missed an average of 1.08 days per month due to poor health, adding up to over $32 billion in lost productivity. Those who said they were overweight or obese with three or more chronic conditions recorded over 3 unhealthy days per month, averaging 42 days per year and totaling $81 billion in losses.

The United States is not the only country struggling with the costs of obesity and chronic illnesses. A similar study by Gallup reveals that unhealthy workers in the United Kingdom have contributed to a (relatively lower figure of) £21 billion (US$33 billion) loss in productivity. 


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