Obesity Increases the Risk of Disabling Workplace Injuries

December 31, 2010

Recent research confirms anecdotal data that work-related injuries are far more costly if an injured worker is obese. In fact, a claim with an obese diagnosis can be 30 times to 60 times more expensive than a comparable claim incurred by a non-obese person, the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. reported.

For its report, NCCI sampled more than 7,000 claims with “obesity” as a secondary diagnosis and another 20,000 claims with virtually identical characteristics — primary diagnosis, gender, industry group, year of injury, state, and approximate age — but no obesity diagnosis. The group found that:

  • Twelve months after the date of injury, the aggregate medical costs of obese claims were three times greater than the comparable costs of the matched non-obese claims;
  • Medical costs of the obese claims continued to grow at a faster pace than the non-obese; at 36 months they were four times more costly, and by 60 months the difference was more than five times greater.
  • Claims of injured obese workers, on average, cost more than claims of matched injured non-obese workers. Moreover, the spreads typically appear to be greater for those diagnoses with higher shares of permanent partial injuries; that is, obese workers tend to require more costly medical treatment than do matched non-obese workers across virtually all diagnoses and injury types.

The dramatically higher medical costs suggest that the types and nature of injuries sustained by obese workers, especially the “morbidly obese,” are more likely to result in permanent disabilities, NCCI said. Furthermore, there is greater risk that injuries will create permanent disabilities if the injured worker is obese.

For the case studies examined, treatment categories that tended to be the primary cost drivers included physical therapy, complex surgery, and drugs and supplies, NCCI said.

With the incidence of obesity growing globally, and the United States reporting the highest incidence of all reporting countries, “the implications on workers’ compensation are disturbing, NCCI said.

The report, “How Obesity Increases the Risk of Disabling Workplace Injuries,” is available for download at https://www.ncci.com/documents/obesity_research_brief.pdf.

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