Employees who are moderately to extremely obese have reduced productivity on the job, even compared to overweight or mildly obese workers, reports a study in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Led by Donna M. Gates. Ed.D., R.N., of University of Cincinnati, the researchers measured various aspects of productivity in a random sample of 341 manufacturing employees. Most of the workers were overweight or obese, including a 23 percent rate of mild obesity (body mass index [BMI] 30 to 34.9) and a 13 percent rate of moderate to extreme obesity (BMI 35 or higher). Another 43 percent of workers were classified as overweight but not obese (BMI 25 to 29.9).

Workers with moderate to extreme obesity had the greatest health-related limitations at work, or "presenteeism." specifically, moderately to extremely obese workers had limitations in time needed to complete work tasks and ability to meet physical work demands. These limitations were significantly greater than in the overweight or mildly obese groups.

Health-related losses in productivity averaged 4.2 percent for workers with moderate to severe obesity 1.8 percent higher than for all other employees. Based on an average hourly wage of $21, the annual costs of presenteeism for moderately to extremely obese workers were nearly $1,800 about $500 higher than for other workers.

Employees with moderate to extreme obesity also had increased health-related absenteeism, compared with other workers. Presenteeism days employees are at work but performing at less than full capacity is increasingly viewed as an important contributor to costs related to employee health.

The new results suggest obesity has a "threshold effect" on presenteeism, with moderately/extremely obese workers being significantly less productive than other workers. Limitations in performing job tasks and completing work in the expected time could be related to difficulty moving because of increased body size or weight, or because of an increased rate of pain problems due to other maladies such as arthritis.

Workplace programs targeting obesity, especially among the most obese workers, could help to reduce costs due to lost productivity. "The study's results support other research that has indicated that a weight loss of ten percent can yield substantial health and economic benefits," Dr. Gates and colleagues write. "Even modest weight loss could result in hundreds of dollars of improved productivity costs per worker each year."


ACOEM (http://www.acoem.org), an international society of 5,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

About Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (http://www.joem.org) is the official journal of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Edited to serve as a guide for physicians, nurses, and researchers, the clinically oriented research articles are an excellent source for new ideas, concepts, techniques, and procedures that can be readily applied in the industrial or commercial employment setting.

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