How Does Obesity Affect the Workplace?

Obesity has become a significant factor in workplace issues such as illness, absenteeism, and health costs. The World Health Organization defines obesity as excessive fat accumulation that presents a health risk, and according to the Institute for Health Metrics, 66% of American adults are considered obese. With this in mind, employees with obesity also have higher annual medical costs due to health conditions for which they are at higher risk, such as musculoskeletal problems, cardiovascular disease, breathlessness, asthma, and more. While we might understand how obesity affects people in their daily lives, it can also have many effects in the workplace.

Increased Injuries and Illnesses

Employers should know that employees dealing with health issues like obesity may require additional support and flexibility. Some people with obesity cannot perform specific duties due to reduced physical function, mobility, and flexibility, which could put them at risk of injury. Obesity strains the body and generates more force during accidents, putting people at risk of more severe injuries such as slips and falls, sprained and broken bones, muscle injuries, and more. In fact, according to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, workers with obesity were 25-68% more likely to experience injuries than workers of average weight. 

Obesity is a severe concern for employees as it can increase their risk of developing diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea. These illnesses are preventable but can have long-lasting effects on the body and require ongoing treatment. Obesity can impact hormones, blood vessels, bones, joints, and body organs, leading to other health problems that can make it difficult for people to carry out their daily activities. Fortunately, employees can manage their risk factors for these illnesses by adopting healthy habits like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and making positive lifestyle changes. 

Increased Absenteeism and Presenteeism

Studies show that workers with obesity have an increased risk of absenteeism, or being out of work for reasons such as sick leave, and they are more likely to take excess days off from work as well. There is also a higher chance of complications during recovery, and those who are obese have a higher risk of any surgery needed for them. Employers must recognize that employees dealing with health issues, including obesity, may require additional support and understanding. 

Employees who are sick or injured may still come to work, but they cannot work at their full potential. In the case of presenteeism regarding obesity, workers show up to work. Still, they cannot perform all of their tasks to the best of their ability due to the mental and physical health factors affecting them from their condition. Individuals with obesity are at a higher risk of developing issues such as depression, disability, heart disease, and diabetes, all affecting day-to-day abilities and quality of life. So while the workers are putting forth effort at work, they cannot keep up productivity due to the tolls of the mental or physical health issues that come with obesity. Presenteeism is not often discussed in the workplace because it is more difficult to see the productivity gap when the employee is absent. Still, it is crucial to consider its effect on employees and the workplace. 

Increased Compensation Costs

According to the Centers for Disease Control, annual nationwide productivity costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion and $6.38 billion. Obesity is associated with increased accidents, longer claim durations, and higher medical costs for injuries and illness. When an employee dealing with obesity is injured, they tend to need longer recovery times or experience more complications from injuries. The CDC also states that medical costs for adults who have obesity are higher than medical costs for people with a healthy weight. 

Equipment and Environmental Considerations

Since the rate of obesity is increasing, employers need to ensure that work equipment and environments are fit for the average employee. If an occupation requires machinery and other equipment, employers need to assess the weight capacities of those devices to ensure all employees can safely use them. Employers also need to make sure that the sizing of any PPE, or personal protective equipment, meets the needs of obese workers as well. Employers should ensure employees have access to a fitting chair that supports proper workplace posture for a desk job. 

Companies need to address the impact of health issues on their employees to improve productivity and provide the necessary support. Obesity affects the workplace in many ways, but there are solutions to explore, and by addressing the impact of health concerns on their employees and supporting them in better nutritional choices, companies can help improve productivity and success while providing necessary support for those in need. To help your employees improve their health and increase productivity, contact us to get started!