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The Higher Cost of Heavier Employees

Employers Pay More in Health-Care Costs for Overweight Employees
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WebMD Health News

July 30, 2003 - An employee's waistline can greatly affect a company's bottom line on health-care spending, according to a new study. It shows that overweight staffers are more absent and have higher health-care costs than leaner employees.

The study appears in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

The research shows the body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight in proportion to height, predicted higher health-care costs and greater absenteeism among workers. The average medical costs for city employees got larger as the employees got bigger. In this analysis done on almost 500 municipal workers in the city of Dallas:

  • Normal-weight employees (BMI <25) cost $114.00 per year.
  • Overweight employees (BMI 25-30) cost $513.00 per year.
  • Obese employees (BMI >30) cost $620.00 per year.

Overweight and obese employees were more likely to have more hours absent than normal-weight employees. A normal-weight employee averaged 27 hours of missed work, while overweight and obese employees missed 30 and 35 hours, respectively. An obese person was also more than four times likely to be assigned to a group that had higher health-care costs than the normal-weight employee.

"In order to decrease health-care costs, efforts to prevent overweight and obesity and to transform the overweight and obese to normal weight should be taken," researcher Timothy Bungum, PhD, suggested in a news release.

Overweight Employees Cost Companies Billions

Researchers say health-care spending on American employees and dependents exceeds $900 billion and counting each year. Direct and indirect absenteeism costs are believed to be as high as $25 billion per year. Researchers aimed to target the source of some of these rising costs.

Bungum's team surveyed 500 municipal employees in Dallas, which was ranked the "fifth fattest city in America" by Men's Fitness magazine in 2002. Questionnaires asked about certain variables including age and education. Respondents were 61% men, 55% white, 31% black, and 11% Hispanic. The average age was 43, and the average BMI was 28. Normal BMI is under 25, according to government standards.

"Age, gender, race, educational attainment, and smoking all failed to predict obesity-related health-care costs. The lone significant predictor of health-care costs was BMI," Bungum says.

Though researchers say their findings show that the relationship between obesity and company health-care costs needs addressing, they also say that more research needs to be done before cause-and-effect inferences can be drawn.

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