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A closer look at work comp claims and obesity in the workforce

If you ask a medical expert to identify some of the biggest health challenges currently facing the U.S. workforce, there is a very high probability that they will name obesity. Specifically, they will discuss how obesity is not only putting certain employees at an increased risk of suffering serious work injuries but is also serving to delay their recoveries.

For employers, obesity often translates into reduced manpower and, by extension, reduced productivity, but also altogether higher work comp costs and higher rates of permanent disability.

To illustrate the extent of the problem, consider the findings of a groundbreaking survey conducted by researchers at Duke University back in 2007 on the subject of obesity in the workplace:

  • Obese employees were found to file twice the number of work comp claims as non-obese employees
  • Obese employees' medical costs were found to be seven times higher than those of non-obese employees
  • Obese employees missed 13 times more days due to work injuries than non-obese employees

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently found that roughly 37.5 percent of U.S. adults were obese, a figure that has remained relatively steady since 2007.

Why then is obesity such a problem for employers/work comp insurers?

Medical experts indicate that obesity can lead to the onset of such co-morbid conditions as cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke.

In addition, obesity can complicate the efforts of physicians to help a patient heal or reach their maximum medical improvement. In fact, obesity-related complications are causing many physicians to recommend weight loss/exercise programs or gastric bypass surgery -- both of which can significantly delay a return to work and drive up costs.

"I was reading over the doctor's notes, and the first thing that jumped out at me was that the doctor indicated after seven months that, in his opinion, this employee's ankle would not get better and he would not become maximum medical unless he lost a significant amount of weight," said the work comp manager at an Oregon-based aviation company. "As soon as [the doctor] mentioned weight I said, "Oh no.'"

Complicating matters further, experts say, is that many obese employees have to deal with the potential for prescription drug abuse when treating chronic pain and a reluctance to participate in exercise programs due to social anxiety issues.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


Workforce, "Obesity problems weigh on workers' comp" March 8, 2012

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