Purpose: Examine employee illness absence and the economic impact of overweight and obesity in a petrochemical industry workforce.
Methods: A 10-year follow-up (1994-2003) of 4153 Shell Oil Company employees was conducted. Absence frequency rates and average number of workdays lost were calculated for normal weight, overweight, and obese employees with and without the presence of additional risk factors. The study also assessed the change in overweight and obesity prevalence in the study population and estimated the current and future economic impact of these conditions.
Results: Overall, obese employees were 80% more likely to have absences (24.0 vs. 13.3 per 100 employees) and were absent 3.7 more days (7.7 vs. 4.0 days) per year compared with those employees with normal body weights. Among employees with no additional risk factors, overweight employees lost more than 1.5 times more days (4.2 vs. 2.6 days) per year, and obese employees more than 2.5 times more days (7.2 vs. 2.6 days) compared with their normal-weight colleagues. Similarly, absence frequency attributable to cardiovascular disease significantly increased among employees with one or two additional risk factors present, such as smoking, high blood pressure, or hypercholesterolemia. The direct cost of illness absence from overweight and obesity for this study population was $1,873,500. Furthermore, 31% of the total illness absence was attributable to overweight and obesity in 1994, and the percentage had risen to 36% by 2003.
Conclusions: The economic impact to employers is great and will continue to rise unless measures are taken, particularly to reduce the number of employees moving from overweight to obesity with time.