Obesity’s Impact on Workplace Productivity

Weight Scale

The obesity epidemic in the United States affects workplace productivity as well as individual health outcome.  Overweight employees have a higher incidence of joint problems, hypertension, and diabetes—not to mention heart disease and stroke if BMI (body-mass index) is over 30.  Approximately one-third (35.7%) of adults in the United States are now obese according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
stated that declining workplace physical activity since 1960 may account for a large portion of this obesity increase.  Additionally, the researchers found that jobs requiring moderate physical activity have plummeted to 20%, and the remaining 80% are sedentary—for an average decline of 120-140 burned calories per day. An article cited by a New York Times report (5/26/11), published in PLoS ONE (6:5, e19657; May 2011),

Dr. Timothy Church (Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA)—lead author of the PLoS One article—was quoted as stating:  “If we’re going to try to get to the root of what’s causing the obesity epidemic, work-related physical activity needs to be in the discussion.”

Besides decreased productivity, obesity has been linked in the workplace to:

  • Increased absenteeism due to illness
  • Increased use of healthcare services/health insurance
  • Workplace injury
  • Compensation claims

Weight-gain on the job can create a financial burden on employers, in addition to the loss of worker productivity.  In 2008, the estimated health care costs related to obesity were $147 billion per the CDC (http://www.cec.gov/workplacehealthpromotion.html).  According to the website of Obesity in America (http://www.obesityinamerica.org/statistics/index.cfm), no state in 2010 had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.

Fortunately, some employers are beginning to alter the office work environment to promote increased physical activity, given CDC and NIOSH findings—as well as an awareness of the health risks of adult obesity and attendant healthcare costs.  Besides subsidized gym memberships, some employers have increased the walking-distance to copiers and fax machines.
Two novel ideas being implemented are standing workstations and treadmill desks.  A New York Times article published in December 2011 and entitled, Don’t Just Sit There, Work Out at Your Desk, describes a Minneapolis staffing firm’s encouragement of ‘walking meetings’ utilizing height-adjustable work surfaces placed above treadmill tracks—along with other, less-expensive methods.

Does your company enable workers’ to eat lunch at their desks?  Perhaps, it would be healthier to recommend that they go to another area to eat—somewhere that generates enough movement to burn a few calories.  It may save costs and increase productivity in the long-term.  Of course, taking the stairs instead of an elevator is one method to get a ‘work-out’.

However, according to Barbara Ainsworth (President of the American College of Sports Medicine), “The activity we get at work has to be intentional.”

InjuryFree is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of all workers.  If you would like more ideas on how to have a healthier and more productive workforce, contact us today!