Employers Battle the Impact of Employee Obesity

weight control

Obesity is considered a top factor in lost productivity at American businesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least one-third of American adults and one-sixth of children are overweight and considered obese. While this fact is startling, the following related statistics are overwhelming:

  • Increased obesity for adults and children – During the past 20 years, obesity numbers have doubled for adults and tripled for children
  • Higher medical costs for employers – Researchers estimate that obesity among full-time workers costs employers $73.1 billion per year – the equivalent of hiring 1.8 million new workers at annual salaries of $42,000 (the average American salary)
    • Medical costs for obese employees are 77 percent higher than for those with healthy weights
    • Approximately 43 percent of healthcare spending by businesses is for obese workers with serious medical concerns, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, gallbladder disease, endometrial cancer and osteoarthritis
  • Added disability claims – Disability claims for obese employees cost employers more than $8,700 on average per individual
  • Work restrictions – Obese workers often have work limitations

Wellness Solutions for Obesity

Many employers are developing wellness programs to encourage obese employees to lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles. Studies show that the return on their investment is significant, with savings between $4.56 and $4.75 per employee due to lower medical costs and restored productivity. Employers across the country also have implemented a variety of wellness programs with incentives and rewards to encourage employees to achieve specific results through long-term lifestyle changes.

Health Care Reform Offers Additional Incentives

The health care reform law passed in March 2010 (officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) determined that employers can charge unhealthy workers higher premiums for benefits. For those individuals identified as unhealthy, based on behaviors or health-screening results, employers can charge up to 20 percent more for medical benefits. And, this amount can be increased to as much as 30 percent in 2014.

Two recent articles review the rising problems of employee obesity and the incentives employers are adopting to encourage participation in wellness programs.