The Weight on Productivity

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Sandy Witt

Lately it seems that everywhere I turn, whether it’s in the break-room at work or in the lunchroom, I frequently hear people talking about being unhappy with their weight and how it prevents them from fitting into the latest fashion. Being overweight (or underweight, for that matter) impacts much more than what you wear.

Not only can it increase a person’s risk of developing weight-related medical problems down the road, it also can have a serious strain on productivity.

Take a study from Gallup-Healthways as an example. The study shows that obesity, along with chronic illness, costs more than $153 billion in productivity each year.1 It also reported that compared with non overweight, healthy co-workers, overweight employees miss an estimated 450 million extra days of work per year.2

Now that you know what you’re up against, one way employers are addressing the cost of obesity is by offering employees a wellness program. For instance, many employers have begun helping employees improve their weight with on-site nutrition classes and healthier food choices in the cafeteria and/or in the vending machines. Other organizations even offer on-site gyms for their employees.

Rolling out robust wellness programs can be costly, but taking baby steps like the above can be a reasonable and cost-effective solution. Doing something is certainly better than doing nothing at all, which can lead to the alternative: $153 billion in lost productivity and 450 million of extra work days missed per year.3

Plus, employers also can consider integrating health programs with risk management, disability and other benefits for a maximized and well-coordinated effort that work together to improve health, comfort and productivity of employees. And when this happens, everyone wins.


1,2,3 Ailing and Overweight Americans Cost Billions in Productivity. Gallup-Healthways. 2011. Available at: Accessed Dec. 9, 2011.