Portly Workers Can Prove a Large Workplace Expense

February 20, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - At least based on a new study, there can be little doubt that the workplace impact of obesity is an extremely weighty issue with obesity-related disabilities costing employers an average $8,720 per employee per year

The report by UnumProvident Corporation, a provider of disability insurance, found that companies lose more than $12 billion annually from having portly workers including:

  • increased health care utilization
  • lower productivity
  • increased absenteeism
  • elevated health and disability premiums.

According to UnumProvident, direct health-care costs attributable to obesity are now estimated to be $70 billion, roughly seven percent of total US health care costs. The average annual direct medical cost associated with obesity is approximately 3.5 times the annual disability cost of $30,567. Direct costs combined with co-morbid medical costs, where obesity is a contributing factor, lead to a total health care cost average of $51,023 per claimant per year, UnumProvident found.

Short-term disability claims attributed to obesity have increased tenfold over the past decade, based on research using UnumProvident’s disability database. Obesity accounts for nearly 4,000 of UnumProvident’s annual short-term disability claims and is often present as a co-morbidity factor in long-term disability claims, a news release said.

According to Robert Anfield, vice president and medical director for UnumProvident, work site programs can augment public health approaches for the prevention and treatment of obesity as large numbers of people can be reached at relatively low cost. Successful programs typically require shared worker-management participation and accountability for planning and implementation, consultation on work-site changes and targeting health behavior change.