Obesity Costly in Workers' Comp

Obesity may raise workers' compensation claims, a new
study shows.

The study included more than 11,700 Duke University workers who had at least
one medical checkup from 1997-2004.

During the study, participants filed a total of 2,539 workers' compensation
claims topping $5 million in medical claims and another $5 million in indemnity

Workers' comp claims were more common and costlier for obese employees,
judging by BMI data from the patients' medical records. BMI -- or body mass
index -- is a measure that relates height to weight.

The researchers, who work in the community and family medicine department of
Duke University Medical Center, included Truls Ostbye, MD, PhD.

They checked the workers' medical records and found that 2% were
underweight, 42% were normal weight, 30% were overweight but not obese, 21%
were mildly or moderately obese, and 5% were severely obese.

Obesity and Workers' Comp Claims

Workers' comp claims rose with workers' BMI, the study shows.

For instance, nearly six workers' comp claims were filed per 100 workers of
normal BMI, compared with more than 11 claims filed per 100 of the heaviest

Medical claims costs per 100 workers were as follows:

  • Normal BMI: $7,500

  • Overweight: More than $13,300

  • Mildly obese: More than $19,000

  • Moderately obese: More than $23,300

  • Severely obese: More than $51,000 per 100 very obese workers

"The number of lost workdays was almost 13 times higher, medical costs
were seven times higher, and indemnity claims costs were 11 times higher among
the heaviest employees compared with those of recommended weight," write
the researchers.

Obesity was particularly linked to workers' comp claims for falls, slips,
lifting, exertion, back pain, and injuries to the hand, wrist, knee, hip, or
ankle. Physically demanding jobs carried the highest risk.

Incentive for Companies to Help

Companies may help their bottom line by promoting healthy lifestyles for
their workers, the study suggests.

"It is increasingly common for employers to support healthy lifestyle
interventions such as healthy cafeteria food, on-site fitness facilities, and
encouragement of physical activity during work breaks," write the

"Our study lends support to the notion that such programs may not only
improve the health of employees but also be financially beneficial," they

Ostbye and colleagues say workplace-based programs on healthy eating and
physical activity should be developed and evaluated as an addition to other
workplace safety strategies.

The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.


  • Do you think obesity should be seen as a disease? Join the discussion on
    the WebMD
    message boards.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
B)2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved