Posted on 18 Oct 2011
Full-time workers in the U.S. who are overweight or obese and have other chronic health conditions miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers -- resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity annually, according to The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index uses respondents' self-reports of their height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) scores. BMI values of 30 or higher are classified as "obese," 25.0 to 29.9 are "overweight," and 18.5 to 24.9 are "normal weight."
Chronic health conditions in this analysis include being overweight or obese; having ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months. Gallup calculated unhealthy days using respondents' answers to the question, "During the past 30 days, for about how many days did poor health keep you from doing your usual activities?"
Full-time workers who are of normal weight and do not suffer from chronic health conditions make up 13.9% of the U.S. workforce and average .34 unhealthy days each month -- or about 4 days per year. The average number of unhealthy days per month is slightly higher at .36 among those who are overweight or obese and do not have additional chronic health conditions.
Unhealthy days per month increase further to 1.08 for workers who are overweight or obese and have one to two additional chronic health conditions.
Workers who are of an above-normal weight and have three or more chronic health conditions report a significantly higher average of 3.51 unhealthy days per month -- that is about 42 days per year.
To estimate how unhealthy days per month translate into missed work days, Gallup asked workers this question: "Earlier, you indicated that you had xx days in the last month where poor health prevented you from doing your usual activities. How many actual work days in the last month did you not work due to poor health?" The results indicated that one unhealthy day per month for full-time workers is equivalent to about 0.31 actual missed days of work.
The $153 billion in annual lost productivity costs linked to unhealthy workers in the United States is more than four times the cost found in the United Kingdom. The striking difference is the result of fewer unhealthy workers in the U.K. About 14% of full-time U.S. workers are of a normal weight and have no chronic illness, compared with 20% in the U.K.
The high percentages of full-time U.S. workers who have less than ideal health are a significant drain on productivity for U.S. businesses. However, employees and employers have the opportunity to potentially increase productivity if they address the health issues that are currently plaguing the workplace.
The $153 billion in lost productivity estimated in this analysis would increase if it included presenteeism, which is when employees go to work but are less productive in their jobs because of poor health or wellbeing. Including part-time employees would also add to the estimate of costs in lost productivity. Other research that has examined a broader array of factors using a somewhat different list of chronic conditions places the economic effect of lost productivity at $1.1 trillion per year.