Activity File

The Connection Between Obesity, Employment, and Productivity

Business leaders are figuring out that we need more effective strategies for reducing the impact of obesity. New data published in Obesity now adds to the understanding of this need. People with obesity are less likely to have employment. If unemployed, they’re less likely to find work. And if they’re working, absences due to illness are more likely. These findings come from a large prospective analysis of 87,796 participants in the Danish National Health Survey. The follow-up was five years. The links between obesity, employment, and productivity are ever more obvious.

Difficulty in Finding  and Keeping a Job

Prior research documents employment discrimination against people with obesity. But this study tells us a bit more about the impact. Having obesity in this Danish cohort makes it more likely that a person will become unemployed. The difference ranges from 18 to 27 percent, depending on the severity of obesity.

Likewise, women with severe obesity were less likely to find work if they were initially unemployed. In men, this observation fell short of being significant. The pattern here falls in line with prior observations that women suffer more employment discrimination than men due to body weight.

Absence Due to Illness

Roughly a quarter of working people had an absence due to illness during this five-year study. But the odds of being out sick went up with increasing weight status. For folks with severe obesity, the odds were 50 percent higher. For overweight, the odds of being out sick were about 14 percent higher than people in a normal weight range. The implications for productivity are self-evident.

Wasted Potential

These new new data add to a picture of wasted potential due to obesity and weight bias. If the wasted human potential isn’t bad enough, the wasted economic potential becomes intolerable. It makes no economic sense to discriminate against people with obesity. These are folks who can be valuable contributors.

Likewise, it makes no sense to limit the access to care for obesity, as many health plans currently do. That’s because good obesity care can improve health, prevent complications, and lead a person to function better. Leaving obesity untreated simply contributes to a $1.2 trillion cost for reduced economic productivity in the U.S. alone. It makes no economic sense whatsoever.

Click here for the study in Obesity and here for a systematic review of obesity’s impact on productivity.

Activity File, photograph © Stephanie Asher / flickr

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September 30, 2019