A Duke University Medical Center study revealed that obese workers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims as non-obese workers. In addition the over-weight workers had 7 times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than did non-obese workers.
The results of the study were published April 23, 2007, in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The researchers looked at the records of 11,728 employees of Duke University who received health risk appraisals between 1997 and 2004. Duke ordinarily gathers this information anonymously as a way of identifying potential areas of occupational risk in order to develop plans to reduce that risk. The analysis covered a variety of occupational titles, such as administrative assistants, groundskeepers, nurses and professors.
The study compared the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the rate of workers’ compensation claims. BMI assesses a person’s weight in relationship to their height, which is why it is considered the most accurate measure of obesity. For Americans, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal; 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and 30 and above is considered obese.
The researchers discovered that workers with a BMI greater than 40 had 11.65 claims per 100 workers, compared with 5.8 claims per 100 workers for employees with a normal weight. They also found that obese workers averaged 183.63 lost days of work per 100 workers, compared with 14.19 per 100 workers for employees of normal weight. The average medical claims costs per 100 workers was $51,019 for the obese and $7,503 for the non-obese.
The study showed that the body parts most susceptible to injury among obese workers were the lower extremities, wrist or hand, and back. The most common causes of these injuries were falls or slips, and lifting.
The researchers concluded that their findings were applicable to the community as a whole, since the demographics of Duke closely reflect the local area. They plan to use the Duke population to help the community, so the solutions they devise can benefit the community as a whole.
However, the primary message they hoped to deliver is that the solution to reducing the burden on workers’ compensation involves eliminating both individual risk factors such as obesity and the risk factors within the workplace that cause injury. By targeting obesity and workplace risks simultaneously, businesses can reduce absenteeism, increase the overall health of workers, and decrease the cost of health care.