Obesity among American workers costs the nations billions in lost productivity

Obesity is associated with significant increases in absenteeism among American workers and costs the nation over $8 billion per year in lost productivity, according to a study recently published by Yale’s Rudd Center researchers. The study suggests that the health consequences of obesity negatively impact the workforce, and in turn create a significant financial challenge for the nation as well as individual states. The authors assert that policy solutions are needed to reduce these costs. 

The study is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and is the first of its kind to provide state-level estimates of obesity-attributable costs of absenteeism among working adults in the United States

Researchers used nationally representative data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance to calculate obesity-attributable costs of absenteeism among working adults in the United States on a state and national level.

Obesity-attributable absenteeism costs ranged across states from $14.4 million (Wyoming) to $907 million (California) per year. Overall, a total national loss in productivity because of obesity-related absenteeism was estimated at $8.65 billion per year, which is 9.3% of all absenteeism costs.

Previous research shows that obesity-related illness incur considerable costs, but this new study indicates that reduced productivity of employees resulting from these health consequences may pose an even greater cost to society because of higher production costs and a less competitive workforce.

This study highlights an equally important role of indirect economic costs, such as absenteeism, and the need to extend policy discussions and evaluation of initiatives beyond the direct financial drain of obesity in the health care sector.

“Understanding all economic costs of obesity, including lost productivity, is critical for policymakers working on obesity prevention at any level,” notes lead author, Tatiana Andreyeva, ,the Rudd Center’s director of economic initiatives. “Quantifying not just obesity-related health care costs but also economic costs is essential for informed decision making.”

Co-authors include Joerg Luedicke, a senior scientist at StataCorp, and Y. Claire Wang assistant professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.