How Costs for Obesity in Workplace Vary by Industry

February 11, 2020

Although obese employees incur higher direct and indirect costs, the extent of obesity-related costs tends to be lower in some industrial sectors than others— including healthcare, reports a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

This study compares other industries with the healthcare industry. Compared with the healthcare industry, direct healthcare costs by obesity class were higher in several other U.S. industries. The greatest excess direct costs per person per year (PPPY) were seen for employees with class III severity obesity in:

  • government/education/religious services (GERS) sector, about $5,600 PPPY;
  • food/entertainment services, $4,900 PPPY; and
  • technology sectors ($4,300 PPPY).

Compared to healthcare, obese GERS workers were more than twice as likely to be in the highest category of direct costs (80th percentile or higher).

The study adds to previous evidence that obesity-related costs are higher in some industries than others. The authors suggest that because of their training, healthcare employees may feel better able to deal with health problems on their own — or might feel ashamed of needing medical care for obesity-related issues.

For other industrial sectors studied — manufacturing and energy, transportation, finance and insurance, and retail stores and consumer goods — obesity-related costs were not significantly higher than in healthcare.

In all sectors, direct health care costs increase with increasing body mass index, according to the study. Average direct costs per person per year (PPPY) increased from about $4,500 for non-obese workers, to $7,150 for those with class I, $9,700 for class II, and $19,000 for class III obesity. Medical-related absenteeism and disability costs showed similar trends.

The researchers hope the study will contribute towards the implementation employer-based weight management programs tailored to the specific needs of each industry in order to improve employee health.

For the study, Dominique Lejeune, MSc, of Groupe d’analyse, Ltée, Montréal, QC, Canada, analyzed variations in the relationship between obesity and healthcare and other employee costs. The study included data on more than 39,000 U.S. employees between 2010 and 2017, drawn from a large administrative claims database. Excess costs associated with obesity at different severity levels (class I, II, and III) were compared for eight broad industrial sectors.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study can be found at: “Direct, Absenteeism, and Disability Cost Burden of Obesity Among Privately Insured Employees.”

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