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Obesity - What's the risk to business?

By Rosie Hewitt
Rehabilitation and Delegated Claims Manager

We know that  24.8% of adults (16 or over) and 16.3% of children (2-5) in England alone are obese, and yet while it may not be the Black Death, it is a severe health crisis. Yet what really are the problems associated with obesity and what actually is it?

Medics tend to use a measurement called the Body Mass Index ( BMI) to classify obesity. For most adults: 

  • a BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you are considered overweight
  • a BMI of 30 to 39.9 means you are considered obese
  • a BMI of 40 or above means you are considered severely obese.

Impact of Obesity

It affects quality of lives not only in the obvious physical way but can lead to serious and life-threatening conditions, such as:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Coronary heart Disease
  • Some types of Cancers – breast and bowel
  • Stroke
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Infertility

Not only that but the impact on mental health can be considerable, resulting in low self esteem, depression, isolation and feelings of being stigmatised. All of which impact on a person’s ability to perform at or even attend work. 

Its impact on Business

Obese employees are more likely to take short and long periods of sickness absence from work in comparison to their healthier colleagues and could demand to be treated as 'disabled' under the Equality Act 2010. In the US and Europe, the  notion that obesity amounts to a disability under law is gaining momentum. In light of this, employers might want to consider what steps they can take, not just to deal with obesity-related issues, but preventing them in the first place.

Its impact on Claims

There is evidence that obesity increases the risk of some work related injuries, namely musculoskeletal disorders, heat stress and vibration induced injury. Traumatic workplace injuries appear to correlate with increasing BMI.

A US study has shown that the presence of obesity had a stronger effect on the occurrence of acute sprains and/or strains than it did on other types of injury. Work related musculoskeletal injuries typically associated with obesity are:

  • Lower back
  • Lower extremities
  • Wrists and
  • Shoulders.

Furthermore for obese workers, repetitive movements, such as kneeling, squatting and typing can be problematic, resulting in cumulative injuries such as carpel tunnel syndrome or osteoarthritis.

These are all factors that businesses need to be aware of and likewise for claims handlers as unless the obesity issue is tackled, we can only predict more personal injury claims with these presenting factors will result.

In our next blog we explore what employers can do to proactively assist in reducing obesity in their workforces.