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Obese add to employer health, comp costs: Studies


ANN ARBOR, Mich. and DURHAM, N.C.--Two studies released this week show that obese employees cost employers more than their non-obese counterparts in both health care and workers compensation costs.

Among U.S. workers participating in corporate health and wellness assessments, obese workers had substantially higher prevalence of metabolic, circulatory, musculoskeletal and respiratory disorders, research by the Medstat Group Inc. found.For example, workers who reported higher body weights also reported higher blood pressure readings. Severe obesity (those whose body mass index exceeded 35) was associated with a 13-point increase in systolic pressure and a 9-point increase in diastolic pressure, according to a newly published Medstat research brief titled "Obesity in the Workforce: Health Effects and Healthcare Costs."

The study also found that moderate and severe obesity were linked to 21% and 75% annual healthcare cost increases, respectively. Moderate obesity was associated with a $670 increase in costs, and severe obesity resulted in a $2,441 increase in costs.

Data for the Medstat study came from the MarketScan Health Risk Assessment Database, which comprises HRA and medical claims data from nine large employers that use the Medstat Advantage Suite decision support system from Thomson Healthcare, Medstat's parent company.

Meanwhile, a separate study by Duke University Medical Center released earlier this week found that obese employees have more lost workdays and higher medical costs and workers compensation claims than non-obese employees.

For example, the study found that obese workers averaged 11.65 workers compensation claims per 100 workers, while non-obese employees filed an average of 5.8 claims per 100 workers. As a result, obese employees had medical costs seven times higher, for an average of $51,019 per 100 employees. The most common causes of injury among obese workers were slips, falls and attempts to lift something.

The study, in which researchers examined the records of 11,728 employees of Duke University who underwent health risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004, also found that obese employees lost 13 times the days of work than their leaner counterparts, averaging 183.63 days lost per 100 employees.

"We all know that 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," Truls Ostbye, co-author of the study and professor of community and family medicine at Duke, said in a statement.