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Extra Weight, Extra Sick Days

In Most Jobs, Obese People Miss Up to 5 Days More Work Each Year
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 21, 2007 -- In most jobs -- for women much more than for men -- obese employees take up to five more sick days each year.

The findings come from Cornell University researcher John Cawley, PhD, and colleagues, who analyzed U.S. data collected from 2000 to 2004 in a federal survey. In the survey, a nationally representative sample of Americans reported their weights, heights, and days of work missed due to illness or injury.

The survey found that 54% of women and 40% of men called in sick to work at least once during the past year. Of those who took sick days, the average woman missed 2.2 days of work and the average man missed 1.75 days.

Cawley and colleagues found that for most jobs, heavier people missed more work. This was not true for obese or overweight male service workers, male and female equipment operators, and female sales workers.

Weight in the study was classified according to body mass index or BMI, a measure ofweight in relation to height. A BMI under 18.5 is underweight, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is normal weight, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight, a BMI of 30 to 39.9 is obese, and a BMI of 40 or more is morbidly obese.

For most workers, Cawley and colleagues found that more weight means more sick days:

  • Overweight women missed an extra half day of work than normal-weight women; overweight men did not miss extra work.
  • Obese women with a BMI of 30 to 34.9 missed about two extra days of work. Obese men in this category did not miss extra work.
  • Obese women with a BMI of 35 to 39.9 missed three extra days of work. Obese men in this category missed about two extra sick days.
  • Obese women with a BMI of 40 or more missed five extra days of work. Obese men in this category missed about two extra sick days.

Overall, Cawley and colleagues estimate that obesity-related sick days cost employers $4.3 billion a year in 2004 dollars. That's about 9% of the total cost to employers of all sick days. Obese managers contributed more to this cost than workers in other types of jobs.

The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It was funded by Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a company that makes devices used for bariatric surgery.

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