Obese people more likely to take time off work sick, study finds

Obese people are more likely to take more sick days and be off work for longer than people of a normal weight, according to a Europe-wide study.

The economic consequences of obesity are “massive”, researchers warned, while urging policymakers to “take more action”.

Academics from the health economics and health policy research group at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna presented their analysis of data from the European health interview survey (EHIS 3) at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice.

They included figures from 26 countries, most of which were collected in 2019.

Some 122,598 responses were included in the main analysis, which were weighted to represent the estimated 147 million people in employment across the 26 countries.

People taking part were graded based on their body mass index (BMI), with absenteeism compared with those considered a healthy weight.

Researchers found those with a BMI of between 25 and 30 – who were classed as overweight – were 12% more likely to be off work ill.

Obese people with a BMI of 30 to 35 were 36% more likely to be absent from work while people with a BMI of 35 to 40 were 61% more likely to have sick days.

The most obese participants – with a BMI of more than 40 – were 147% more likely to be off work sick.

However, the impact differed across different European countries, with overweight people in the likes of Denmark 30% more likely to be off sick compared to those with a normal weight.

Study leader Dr Thomas Czypionka said: “The health consequences and economic consequences of obesity are massive.

“With the current trajectory of obesity and childhood obesity prevalence that many countries are on, policymakers need to take more action to fight obesity using all evidence-based measures available.”

BMI also impacted the length of time a person spent off work sick, researchers found.

Based on the 41,469 responses from people who had stayed off ill – representing 54 million workers – people with a BMI of 30 to 35 were 38% more likely to be off for more than a week.

The odds were higher those with a BMI of 35 to 40 and more than 40, at 52% and 121% respectively.

Siegfried Eisenberg, who also worked on the research, said: “Our results show that it is not only healthcare systems are affected by people living with obesity but also economies as a whole all across Europe.

“An increasing prevalence of people living with overweight and obesity will result in an increasing number of absences due to health issues in European countries, with knock-on effects on productivity and the economy.”

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