Obese File Twice as Many Workers' Comp Claims

Overweight takes big toll on employers' bottom line, study shows

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MONDAY, April 23, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A new study of almost 12,000 Duke University employees found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers' compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims, and had 13 times more lost work days due to work injury/illness than non-obese employees.

The study, by researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., also found that obese workers in high-risk jobs incurred the highest medical and economic costs of all employees.

The study is published in the April 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isn't solely a personal medical problem -- it spills over into the workplace and has concrete economic costs," study author Dr. Truls Ostbye, a professor of community and family medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"Given the strong link between obesity and worker's compensations 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."

People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above are considered obese. This study found that workers with a BMI of 40 had close to 12 workers' compensation claims per 100 workers, compared with about 6 claims per 100 in workers with a normal BMI (18.5 to 24.9).

Obese workers lost an average of almost 184 work days per 100 employees, compared with just over 14 per 100 for those with a normal BMI. Obese workers had average medical claim costs of $51,019 per 100 workers, compared with $7,503 for non-obese employees.

The lower extremities, wrists, hands, and back were the areas of the body most prone to injury among obese workers. Falls, slips and lifting were the causes of most of these injuries.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases outlines the health risks of being overweight.

SOURCE: Duke University, new release, April 23, 2007

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