Study Shows Obesity Increases Risk of Disabling Workplace Injuries


The incidence of obesity is growing across the world. Many studies have shown how being extremely overweight negatively impacts a person’s overall health. For example, the CDC reports that being overweight or obese appears to increase the risk of incurring one or more diseases and adverse health conditions, including:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).

But obesity can also impact whether a worker gets injured on the job—how disabling that injury is. A recent study shows that work-related injuries are far more costly if the injured worker is obese. The dramatically higher medical costs suggest that the types and nature of injuries sustained by obese workers—especially the morbidly obese—are more likely to result in permanent disabilities.

The Study

The study analyzes the differences in outcomes between workplace injuries suffered by obese and non-obese workers’ comp claimants. Obesity is generally defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more; morbid obesity is generally defined as having a body mass index of 40 or more. But workers’ comp claims data typically doesn’t include weight, height or body mass index information. So in the study, claims were categorized as obese when a medical provider included on the billed medical transaction a diagnosis code indicating obesity.

It specifically looked at differences in injury types and treatment patterns between a sample of more than 7,000 claims with obesity as a secondary diagnosis and another 20,000 claims with virtually identical characteristics—primary diagnosis, gender, industry group, year of injury, state, and approximate age—but no obesity diagnosis.

Key Findings

The researchers found that there are systematic differences in the outcomes for obese and non-obese claimants with comparable demographic characteristics. They also concluded that there’s greater risk that injuries will create permanent disabilities if the injured worker is obese. And even when both the obese claim and non-obese claim are for the same injury type, the range of medical treatments and costs, as well as duration, typically is greater for obese claimants.