Obese workers and on-the-job injuries

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 17th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Obesity is a growing public health problem, as well as a risk factor for a host of chronic diseases and death. And as America’s waistline expands, a recent study finds that workers’ compensation claims for injuries on the job are on the increase also.

The research, conducted at Duke University, looked at nearly twelve-thousand health-care and university employees who completed at least one yearly health risk questionnaire between 1997 and 2004. The assessment included a measure of height and weight, and overall B-M-I, or body-mass-index. Workers were characterized as underweight, at recommended weight, or overweight or obese.

Over an average of three years of follow-up, workers with higher B-M-Is tended to have more workers’ compensation claims. Those in the group with the highest B-M-I, forty or greater, had twice the rate of claims as those at the recommended weight.

Because the number of lost workdays and the costs per claim also increase rapidly with B-M-I, the effects of B-M-I on lost workdays and costs were even stronger. The number of lost workdays was almost thirteen times higher, medical claims costs were seven times higher and indemnity claims costs were eleven times higher among the heaviest employees, compared with those of recommended weight.

The researchers concluded that the goal of maintaining a healthy weight should not only be important to workers. Employers should also advocate a healthy lifestyle for their employees, given the strong association between B-M-I and workers’ injuries.