Weight And The Workplace

A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that there is a definite connection between weight and work.
science center

While the link between weight and work many not seem obvious, a growing body of research suggests that there is a definite direct connection.

Work Environment Doesn't Help
Many work environments have become more sedentary over the years and this has an effect on weight. For example, one study found that the more time employees spent at their desks, the greater their odds of being overweight.1 The number of hours worked also doesn't help. A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that men and women who worked the most overtime also boosted their odds of gaining weight.2

Burden Of Excess Pounds At Work
While the work environment can contribute to weight gain, excess weight itself has a negative financial impact in the workplace. Companies spend up to 52% more on obese employees in annual healthcare costs than they do on employees at a healthy weight.3 A large part of these costs are due to the way the excess weight worsens other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. These costs come from a variety of sources, including GP visits, prescription drugs and outpatient and inpatient hospital charges.

Excess weight also has a negative effect on productivity while on the job. Heavier workers experience more disability and have more health-related absences than thinner workers, resulting in lost income. For example, one study found that heavy workers were more than twice as likely to report high level absenteeism (more than one sick day per month) than workers at a healthy weight.4 It's not simply about absenteeism, however. Excess weight is also linked to 'presenteeism' - that is, time spent on the job but performing at less than full capacity due to stress, injury or illness. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that obese workers lost substantially more productive time than workers at a healthy weight. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the lost time was explained by presenteeism, while the remaining one-third was from health-related absences.5

Small Changes = Big Improvements
The good news is that weight loss can reduce medical costs and improve job productivity and performance. Weight losses of 5%-10% of initial body weight or the prevention of weight gain can translate into substantial health and economic benefits.6 According to a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) task force, worksite weight management programmes that include diet, exercise, support and behaviour skills are the recommended strategy to prevent or control overweight and obesity in the workplace.7 And there is proof that these programmes work. For example, implementing a worksite lifestyle-based weight loss programme has been shown to result in a reduction in risk factors for heart disease that is sustained for at least one year. The health outcomes for those with other conditions, including diabetes, can also be significantly improved using this approach.8 Fortunately, many employers have started to provide these types of weight loss programmes in the workplace.

Bottom Line
Losing a small amount of weight will not only improve health, but will also lower medical costs and have a beneficial impact on job productivity and performance. If offered, worksite weight management programsme, including those offered by Weight Watchers, are an excellent choice.

view footnotes


Other Science Library topics:

Body Weight and Diabetes

Social Support and Lasting Weight Loss

The Four Pillars of a Science-Based Approach


1 Mummery WK, Schofield GM, Steele R, Eakin EG, Brown WJ. Occupational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers. Am J Prev Med. 2005 Aug;29(2):91-7.

2 Lallukka T, et al. Psychosocial working conditions and weight gain among employees. Int J Obes (Lond). 2005 Aug;29(8):909-15.

3 Burton WN, et al. The Economic Costs Associated with Body Mass Index in a Workplace. J Occup Environ Med. 1998 Sept;40(9):786-792.

4 Tucker LA, Friedman GM. Obesity and absenteeism: an epidemiologic study of 10,825 employed adults. Am J Health Promot. 1998 Jan-Feb;12(3):202-7.

5 Ricci JA & Chee E. Lost Productive Time Associated with Excess Weight in the U.S. Workforce. J Occup Environ Med. 2005 Dec;47:1227-1234.

6 Oster G, et al. Lifetime health and economic benefits of weight loss among obese persons. Am J Public Health. 1999 Oct;89(10):1536-42.

7 Katz DL, et al. Public health strategies for preventing and controlling overweight and obesity in school and worksite settings: a report on recommendations of the Task Force on Community Preventive Services. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2005 Oct 7;54(RR-10):1-12.

8 Eddy DM, et al. Clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness of strategies for managing people at high risk for diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2005. Aug 16;143(4);251-264.