Obesity rate among American workers of all ages grew from 20% to 29% over the past decade

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The obesity rate among American workers of all ages grew from 20% to 29% over the past decade, leading to serious repercussions in the workplace and a demand for solutions, according to a new Pfizer Inc study published today in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The Impact of Obesity on Work Limitations and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the United States Workforce is the first study to document obesity among the U.S. workforce as a whole -- a population of 140 million persons age 20 and older. This is also the first study to establish the correlation between weight and individual cardiovascular risk factors. Obese workers are limited in the amount or kind of work they can do, and they have an increased prevalence of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia and metabolic syndrome. The study covers health data available for the period from 1988 to 2000.

"This study demonstrates unequivocally what happens when workers gain girth, both in terms of their ability to work and the impact on their own health," said Robin Hertz, Ph.D., Senior Director of Population Studies at Pfizer Inc and author of the study. "The damage caused by obesity is clear -- employers face growing costs for insurance premiums, as well as lost productivity, and employees face serious work and health concerns."

Obesity has essentially the same effect as 20 years of aging on employees' ability to work, the study authors found. Obese workers are more than twice as likely as normal weight workers -- 7% vs. 3% -- to report they are limited in the amount or kind of work they do because of physical, mental, or emotional problems. Obese employees are less productive because they cannot work as many hours, or have limited abilities when they report to work.

The study identified specific correlations between obesity and cardiovascular disease risk factors, and found that the health risks are the same as if the employees aged 20 years. Obese employees have higher prevalence rates of serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease, specifically:

  • * Four times the prevalence of hypertension than normal-weight employees (35% vs. 9%)
  • Four times the prevalence of type 2 diabetes (12% vs. 3%)
  • More than 60% higher prevalence of dyslipidemia (36% vs. 22%)
  • Nine times the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, a collection of health risks (54% vs. 6%)

"By pointing out the relationship between obesity and serious risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, the study identifies opportunities for intervention to improve health. While we try to address obesity in the workplace, we can also target these cardiovascular risk factors, as another avenue for improving the health of obese and overweight employees," said Dr. Hertz.

Obesity increases risk in every age group, and as workers age, they suffer from even higher rates of obesity-related diseases. The most alarming difference is in the presence of metabolic syndrome, which ranges from 1% to 10% among normal weight workers, and from 46% to 70% among the obese.

Dr. Hertz pointed out that overweight or obesity affects 59%, 68%, and 77% of younger, middle-age and older workers, respectively. "The key lies in increasing awareness and establishing workplace programs today to prevent work limitations and cardiovascular disease tomorrow," she added.

"Working Americans, including those who are overweight or obese, are a substantial population who spend a significant number of waking hours on the job," Dr. Hertz continued. "Good health is critical for employees to maintain daily responsibilities and productivity, satisfy employers, and drive the economy."

"So it is worthwhile -- and in their own interest -- for employers to implement workplace health programs to encourage healthy eating habits and exercise. And employees should welcome an environment that is conducive to healthy living and positive support," said Dr. Hertz.

This study is part of an ongoing Pfizer research initiative that focuses on how health issues affect a specific population, in this case workers, to increase health awareness and improve the overall health of society. The goal is to identify the challenges, then focus on solutions. As a leader in health care, Pfizer is a company that is committed to improving the overall health of society.

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