Obesity increases workers' compensation costs

DURHAM, N.C. -- Gaining too much weight can be as bad for an employer's bottom line as it is for a person's waistline.

A Duke University Medical Center analysis found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did nonobese workers.

Workers with higher risk jobs were found to be more likely to file workers compensation claims, and obese workers in high-risk jobs incurred the highest costs, both economically and medically.

Although workers' compensation plans vary from state to state, they all require that employers carry insurance policies to cover their employees should they be injured on the job. The plans can pay for employee medical costs, compensation for loss of current or future wages, or compensation for pain and suffering.

"We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isnt solely a personal medical problem -- it spills over into the workplace and has concrete economic costs," said Truls Ostbye, MD, PhD., professor of community and family medicine.

The results of the study were published April 23, 2007, in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

"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," Ostbye said. "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 researchers looked at the records of 11,728 employees of Duke University who received health risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004. Duke collects this information anonymously in order to identify areas of poten

Contact: Richard Merritt
Duke University Medical Center

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