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Obesity Complicates Worker Compensation Claims

Prevalence in the United States

Obesity is at epidemic proportions in the United States according to data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Over one-third of adults in our country are considered obese. The incidence of obesity varies by state and region with the Southern United States having the highest prevalence. Obesity presents a variety of complicating factors to the already challenging landscape of workers compensation issues. For example:

  • Obese workers who file workers compensation claims generally require more days off than their healthy weight counterparts with similar job-related injuries.
  • Obese workers often incur higher medical costs associated with their workers compensation claim.
  • Research indicates that obese workers are more likely to become permanently disabled.

Co-morbidity issues related to workers compensation

Statistics from the CDC for 2011 reveal an alarming 37.5% of adults suffer with obesity. Obesity increases the risk of co-morbid health related conditions such as diabetes, stroke, hypertension, coronary heart disease and cancer. Obesity and its related complications are quickly becoming common in workers compensation claims making the claims and treatment of the work injury more difficult.

Obesity and the workplace

A 2007 landmark Duke University analysis discovered that overweight employees filed two times as many workers compensation claims as their counterparts. Their medical costs were also seven times more expensive and they missed 13 times the number of workdays due to their injuries than the employees who were not obese.

“We all know obesity is bad for the individual, but it isn’t solely a personal medical problem. It spills over into the workplace and has concrete economic costs,” said Truls Ostbye, MD, PhD, professor of community and family medicine at Duke. “Given the strong link between obesity and workers compensation costs, maintaining healthy weight is not only important to workers but should also be a high priority for employers,” Ostbye said.

Many employers are taking this research seriously and have begun workplace health and wellness initiatives. But, for employees who are obese and have suffered a work-related injury, this is of little help to them as they handle the complexities their obesity brings to their claim for benefits.

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