Heavy Toll on Workers’ Comp

August 1, 2007

Gaining too much weight can be as bad for an employer's bottom line as it is for a person's waistline. A Duke Medical Center analysis found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers' compensation claims, had medical costs seven times higher from those claims, and had thirteen times the number of days absent because of work injury or work illness than did non-obese workers.

"We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isn't solely a personal medical problem—it spills over into the workplace," says Truls Ostbye, professor of community and family medicine.

The researchers looked at the records of 11,728 employees of Duke who received health-risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004 and examined the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the rate of workers' compensation claims. (Duke collects this information anonymously in order to identify areas of potential occupational risk and to develop plans to reduce that risk.) The analysis covered a diverse group of workers that included administrative assistants, groundskeepers, nurses, and professors.

Workers with higher-risk jobs were found to be more likely to file workers' compensation claims, and obese workers in high-risk jobs incurred the highest costs. "Given the strong link between obesity and workers' compensation costs," Ostbye says, "maintaining healthy weight is not only important to workers but should also be a high priority for employers."

The results of the study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.