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April 24, 2006
Obese Workers Cost Employers More

Obese workers file more workers' compensation claims, have higher costs from those claims, and lose more days of work than non-obese workers, according to research from Duke University.

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For the study, Duke University researchers looked at the records of more than 11,000 university employees who received health risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004, examining the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the rate of workers' compensation claims for workers.

Among workers who had a BMI within the normal range (18.5 to 24.9), the rate was 5.8 workers' compensation claims per 100 workers, the researchers found. Among workers who had a BMI greater than 40 (30 and above is considered obese), the rate was 11.65 claims per 100 workers.

The researchers found that the average medical claims costs were $51,019 per 100 employees among obese workers and $7,503 per 100 employees among non-obese workers.

The rate of lost works days for work injury or illness was also much higher among obese workers. The lost work day rate was 183.63 per 100 employees among obese workers and 14.19 per 100 employees among workers within the normal BMI range, according to the study.

"We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isn't solely a personal medical problem -- it spills over into the workplace and has concrete economic costs," says Truls Ostbye, professor of community and family medicine at Duke. "Given the strong link between obesity and workers' compensation costs, maintaining healthy weight is not only important to workers but should also be a high priority for employers, Work-based programs designed to target healthful eating and physical activity should be developed and then evaluated as part of a strategy to make all workplaces healthier and safer."

The results of the study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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