Obesity Linked to Significant Productivity Loss

March 3, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new study has found that the workplace productivity of moderately to extremely obese workers is lower when compared to those with less severe weight issues.

According to a report in the January issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, workers with moderate to extreme obesity had the greatest health-related workplace limitations: significantly higher limitations in time needed to complete work tasks and ability to meet physical work demands than their less obese counterparts.

Health-related losses in productivity averaged 4.2% for workers with moderate to severe obesity – 1.8% higher than for all other employees. According to the report, based on an average hourly wage of $21, the annual costs to employers of this lower productivity for moderately to extremely obese workers were nearly $1,800 – about $500 higher than for other workers.

The report asserted that obesity has a “threshold effect” with moderately/extremely obese workers being significantly less productive than other workers. Limitations in performing job tasks and completing work in the expected time could be related to difficulty moving because of increased body size or weight, or because of an increased rate of pain problems due to other maladies such as arthritis.

Led by Donna M. Gates of the University of Cincinnati, the researchers measured various aspects of productivity in a random sample of 341 manufacturing employees, the report said. Most of the workers were overweight or obese, including a 23% rate of mild obesity with a body mass index (BMI) 30 to 34.9 and a 13% rate of moderate to extreme obesity (BMI 35 or higher). Another 43% of workers were classified as overweight but not obese (BMI 25 to 29.9).