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Overweight and obese workers are estimated to have caused a staggering $425.5 billion in economic costs to U.S. businesses and employees in 2023, according to a report released by the data and analytics company GlobalData. 

Of the 158 million civilian employees on nonfarm payrolls, 30% (46.9 million) are classified as being obese while 34% (53.8 million) are overweight, the study said. However, supporting employees’ efforts to treat obesity can generate substantial economic benefits to employees and their employers, the report said.  

Excessive weight can make workers less productive on the job and more prone to absenteeism due to associated health issues, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. According to the new report “Assessing the Economic Impact of Obesity on Employers,” the economic impact of untreated obesity is substantial. 

Costs include $146.5 billion in higher medical costs for employees and their dependents, $82.3 billion in missed workdays, $160.3 billion in reduced productivity due to illness, $31.1 billion in higher disability costs, and $5.2 billion in higher Workers’ Compensation costs, the report said. 

The annual economic cost per worker with obesity is $6,472, while the annual cost per worker with overweight is $1,244 relative to a worker with healthy weight. 

Sally Greenberger, president, National Consumers League, said in a statement issued with the GlobalData report that the nation is paying a high cost for obesity and for breaking down the barriers that prevent people from receiving the care needed to lose weight. 

“When people with obesity get treated according to medical guidelines, their health outcomes often improve, producing cost-savings for employers and payers,” Greenberger said.  

“This is one of the driving factors behind a new Obesity Bill of Rights for the nation, which the National Consumers League and National Council on Aging developed with leading obesity specialists,” she said. “The Obesity Bill of Rights is a call-to-action for policymakers, payers, and employers to eliminate the barriers impeding quality obesity care, which is necessary for Americans to live healthier, longer lives.” 

The prevalence of obesity and overweight and the economic impact varies by industry. Per 10,000 employees, the cost to employers and employees of obesity and overweight ranges from $19.4 million in the professional & business services sector to $36.7 million in the government sector. 

A July 2023 report by the National Association of Manufacturers also noted significantly higher healthcare costs for individuals who are overweight or obese. The NAM survey of manufacturers found that 46.1% said that obesity affected their workplace productivity and employees’ ability to complete their job functions. 

“Manufacturers support efforts to continue to destigmatize these chronic health challenges and approach them like any other condition so that workers and their families feel comfortable choosing from the full suite of available treatment options in order to live healthier and more productive lives,” NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain said Feb. 23 in a press statement. 

Manufacturers are leaders among all private-sector employers and have one of the highest percentages of workers who are eligible for health benefits provided by their employer. Indeed, 91% of manufacturing employees were eligible for health insurance benefits in 2022, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is much higher than the 78% average across all employer types.