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Rates of obesity and diabetes, along with poor eating habits, are on an upward climb among U.S. adults. In a recent survey, Gallup found 39 percent of adults were obese in 2023, an increase of 6 percentage points compared to 2019 (pre-COVID-19 pandemic), and 13.6 percent had diabetes, up 1 percentage point since 2019. For its research, Gallup used survey respondents’ self-reported height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) rather than randomized clinical measurements that typically result in higher obesity estimates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 42 percent of the U.S. population was obese and 31 percent was overweight in 2022. (A BMI above 30 is considered obese.)
Obesity is a contributing factor in the development of diabetes. Genetics, eating and exercise habits are among factors that influence the probability of being obese or diagnosed with diabetes. In the Gallup survey, the percentage of adults who reported they ate “healthy foods” on the previous day dropped 5 percentage points, from 51.7 percent in 2019 to 46.7 percent in 2023. There were particularly notable declines in healthy eating among those aged 30 to 44 (down 9.2 percentage points).
Cost of Obesity
Employees who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop weight-related comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease and cancer. According to an Eli Lilly & Company study of 719,483 employees reported by the Endocrine Society, employees who were overweight or obese had a higher likelihood for productivity loss when compared to their normal-weight peers.
Eli Lilly researchers found average costs associated with absenteeism, short and long-term disability, and worker’s compensation cases were $891, $623, $41 and $112 higher per year, respectively, for people with obesity. Researchers recommended that employers focus on building tailored interventions to improve employee health outcomes. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Eli Lilly’s Zepbound injection for the treatment of obesity in November 2023.)
Cost of Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes prevalence is considered a national epidemic. An estimated 38.5 million Americans have type 2 diabetes; many more have prediabetes or undiagnosed diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, or it does not use it effectively. Insulin is a hormone that lets glucose in consumed food pass from the blood stream into cells to produce energy.
Diabetes causes fluctuations in blood-sugar levels that need to be monitored and managed. It can
affect vision, the liver, kidneys, and circulatory and cardiovascular systems, and it is associated with increased risk for depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Symptoms of high blood sugar include fatigue, thirst, blurry vision and frequent urination. Low blood sugar symptoms include shaking, sweating, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, confusion, dizziness and hunger. These symptoms can affect cognitive and physical function and impact personal and workplace safety.
According to the CDC, diabetes costs in 2022 included $5.4 billion in absenteeism and $35.8 billion in reduced workforce productivity. An American Diabetes Association report on the Economic Costs of Diabetes in 2022 found:
It is estimated that the U.S. workforce could increase in size by about 2 million employees if people with diabetes between the ages of 18 and 65 who are not working were employed alongside peers without diabetes.
What Can You Do?
Employers have much to gain by providing resources to help employees make healthy choices about food, exercise, weight management, preventive medical checkups and mental health interventions. At WorkCare, our industrial athlete, wellness and onsite services teams are available to provide biometric screening, nutritional and fitness counseling, chronic disease education, personalized coaching and referrals, as needed, for community-based services.
Here are some additional resources:
Overweight and Obesity
Type 2 Diabetes
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