Employers have long suspected that health costs and lost productivity can add up quickly for employees who are overweight, obese or have other chronic health conditions. Now, a new Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index® quantifies those costs, gathering real-time information on a daily basis, in hopes of building solutions for a healthier world.

Excess Weight and Chronic Illness Equals More Missed Work Days

Gallup-Healthways surveyed 109,875 full-time employees (those who worked at least 30 hours per week) over the course of 10 months. They asked respondents to report the number of chronic conditions they had, and what their height and weight measurements were. Then, they calculated body-mass index (BMI) scores, counting values of 30 or higher as obese; 25-29 as overweight; and, 18.5-24.9 as normal. To define chronic health conditions, Gallup counted these factors:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Having ever had a heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or leg in the last 12 months

Unhealthy days were calculated as the number of days individuals had missed out on normal activity in the last month, due to poor health. They also asked respondents how many days poor health had caused them to miss work in the past month. Comparing their survey group to the entire U.S. full-time working population, this is what their findings revealed:

  • Respondents with no chronic illnesses missed the least amount of work, whether they were at or above normal weight. With 13.9 percent reporting normal weight and 17.9 percent overweight or obese, each missed an average of four work days per year.
  • Nearly 45 percent of the respondents reported having one or two chronic illnesses. Thirty percent were overweight and reported missing 13 days per year. The 14.8 percent who were normal weight reported missing an average of 12 days.
  • The group that missed the most work by far was the group that had three or more chronic illnesses. With 23.1 percent reporting excess weight, and 5.3 percent at normal weight, each missed an average of 42 work days per year.

Cost to the US Economy? $153 billion in Lost Productivity

With only 14 percent of our country’s full-time workforce at normal weight and having no chronic health conditions, the financial losses are considerable. When factored into the total U.S. workforce, of 112,590,754 full-time employees, Gallup estimated a loss of $153 billion per year in productivity alone. That’s more than four times the cost found in the United Kingdom, where 20 percent of their population is at normal weight and has no chronic health conditions.

And, when Gallup factored in the same variables for part-time employees, and added the impact of lost productivity due to presenteeism, their estimates soared to a loss of around $1.1 trillion per year to the U.S. economy.

Addressing Health Issues Can Increase Productivity

According to the Gallup index, the high percentage of people with excess weight and chronic illness produces a significant drain to our economy. But, results of their index also provide employers with an opportunity to address the health issues that plague our country, to produce a healthier population and more productive work force.