Background: In modern society, decreased physical activity and/or changes in quality and quantity of nutritional intake contribute to obesity and lifestyle diseases that result in economic costs, both to society and to individuals.
Aims: To measure physical fitness and body mass index (BMI) and to assess their association with sickness absence in male soldiers.
Methods: Data regarding BMI and physical fitness (aerobic endurance and muscle fitness) were collected for male Finnish military personnel and combined with sickness absence data collected in the year 2004. The duration and costs of sickness absence were obtained from the personnel administration.
Results: A total of 7179 male military personnel (mean age 37, range 18-59; mean BMI 26.0, range 17-50) participated. There were large inter-individual variations in physical fitness and body mass. The group with the longest sickness absences (>7 days) exhibited lower muscle fitness in three of four tests and shorter running distance compared to the groups with shorter sickness absence (P < 0.001). In addition, high BMI, poor muscle fitness and poor aerobic endurance were associated with increased sickness absence.
Conclusions: The present results showed that poor muscle fitness and endurance as well as high BMI are risk factors for productivity loss causing additional costs for the employer. Therefore, workers at a greater risk should be offered more multifaceted information about potential health risks, as well as motivational support to improve their lifestyle.