Obesity-related costs vary between industries

Although obese employees incur higher direct and indirect costs, the extent of obesity-related costs tends to be lower in some industrial sectors -; including healthcare, reports a study in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Dominique Lejeune, MSc, of Groupe d'analyse, Ltée, Montréal, QC, Canada, analyzed variations in the relationship between obesity and healthcare and other employee costs. The study included data on more than 39,000 US employees between 2010 and 2017, drawn from a large administrative claims database. Excess costs associated with obesity at different severity levels (class I, II, and III) were compared for eight broad industrial sectors.

In all sectors, direct health care costs increased with increasing body mass index. Average direct costs per person per year (PPPY) increased from about $4,500 for non-obese workers, to $7,150 for those with class I, $9,700 for class II, and $19,000 for class III obesity. Medical-related absenteeism and disability costs showed similar trends.

"Compared with the healthcare industry, direct healthcare costs by obesity class were higher in several other US industries," the researchers write. The greatest excess direct costs were seen for employees with class III obesity in the government/education/religious services (GERS) sector, about $5,600 PPPY; food/entertainment services, $4,900 PPPY; and technology sectors ($4,300 PPPY). Compared to healthcare, obese GERS workers were more than twice as likely to be in the highest category of direct costs (80th percentile or higher).

The study adds to previous evidence that obesity-related costs are higher in some industries than others. Because of their training, healthcare employees may feel better able to deal with health problems on their own -; or might feel ashamed of needing medical care for obesity-related issues.

For other industrial sectors studied -; manufacturing and energy, transportation, finance and insurance, and retail stores and consumer goods -; were not significantly higher than in healthcare. The researchers conclude:

Information regarding the industry-specific trends in obesity-related spending...will contribute towards the implementation and tailoring of employer-based weight management programs according to the specific needs of each industry subpopulation in order to achieve effective and sustained improvements in employee health."

Journal reference:

Ramasamy, A.L., et al. (2020) Direct, Absenteeism, and Disability Cost Burden of Obesity Among Privately Insured Employees. A Comparison of Healthcare Industry Versus Other Major Industries in the United States. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. doi.org/10.1097/JOM.0000000000001761.


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