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Obesity-related healthcare costs

Higher risk obesity-related healthcare costs industry dependent

Because of their training, healthcare employees may feel better able to deal with health problems on their own or might feel ashamed of needing medical care for obesity-related issues.

Although employees with obesity incur higher direct and indirect costs, the extent of obesity-related costs tends to be lower in some industrial sectors including healthcare, according to researchers Groupe d'analyse, Ltée, Montréal, QC, Canada. They found that employees of specific industries, such as government/education/religious services industry (GERS), food/entertainment services, and technology, are at higher risk of incurring high obesity-related healthcare costs and may therefore benefit most from targeted, employer-led weight management approaches that encompass a comprehensive range of diet-, medication-, and surgery-based interventions. In addition, employees of the healthcare industry generally incurred lower obesity-related direct, absenteeism and disability costs compared with other industries.

Writing in the journal, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the study, ‘Direct, Absenteeism, and Disability Cost Burden of Obesity Among Privately Insured Employees - A Comparison of Healthcare Industry Versus Other Major Industries in the United States’, Dominique Lejeune, analysed variations in the relationship between obesity and healthcare and other employee costs. The study included data on more than 39,000 US employees between 2010 and 2017, drawn from a large administrative claims database. Excess costs associated with obesity at different severity levels (class I, II, and III) were compared for eight broad industrial sectors.

In all sectors, direct health care costs increased with increasing BMI. Average direct costs per person per year (PPPY) increased from about US$4,500 for workers without obesity, to US$7,150 for those with class I obesity, US$9,700 for class II obesity and $19,000 for class III obesity. Medical-related absenteeism and disability costs showed similar trends.

The greatest excess direct costs were seen for employees with class III obesity in the government/education/religious services (GERS) sector, about US$5,600 PPPY; food/entertainment services, US$4,900 PPPY and technology sectors ($4,300 PPPY). Compared to healthcare, obese GERS workers were more than twice as likely to be in the highest category of direct costs (80th percentile or higher).

The study adds to previous evidence that obesity-related costs are higher in some industries than others. Because of their training, healthcare employees may feel better able to deal with health problems on their own or might feel ashamed of needing medical care for obesity-related issues.

For other industrial sectors studied - manufacturing and energy, transportation, finance and insurance, and retail stores and consumer goods - were not significantly higher than in healthcare. The researchers conclude:

“This retrospective study confirms the varying cost burden of obesity in the US according to industry of employment,” the authors concluded. “…Information regarding the industry-specific trends in obesity-related spending gained from this study will contribute towards the implementation and tailoring of employer-based weight management programs according to the specific needs of each industry subpopulation in order to achieve effective and sustained improvements in employee health.”

To access this paper, please click here

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