(NaturalNews) Lost worker productivity due to obesity-related health problems costs U.S. businesses $73 billion per year, according to a study conducted by researchers from Duke University and the National University of Singapore, and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The study was funded by Allergan, Inc., maker of the Lap-Band surgical weight loss device.
Researchers combined data from a 2006 survey of nationwide medical spending and the 2008 U.S. National Health and Wellness Survey. The latter survey not only included information on absenteeism, but also on "presenteeism" -- decreased performance while at work. The researchers excluded all underweight and pregnant individuals from the data so as not to skew the analysis.
They found that after controlling for ethnicity, education level, income, insurance status, marital status and smoking, overall employer costs increased with an employee's body mass index (a measure of obesity). In particular, presenteeism costs doubled when obesity increased from mild to moderate, then doubled again as it increased to extreme obesity.
Obesity is a major contributor to some of the country's top chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and many forms of cancer.
The total obesity-related costs were equivalent to hiring 1.8 million new workers at the average national salary of $42,000 per year. Only 18 percent of these costs came from missed workdays; 41 percent came from increased health payments, and the other 41 percent came from decreased productivity at work.
The researchers suggested that employers seeking to reduce this massive cost burden might do well to invest more in health-improvement programs for their employees.
"Now that we've uncovered this sort of hidden cost, I think that it ups the ante for [employers] to think harder about what sort of interventions they want to implement," researcher Eric Finkelstein said.