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Programs to help employees and businesses lose weight

The Experts: Health
Obesity lowers profits

By Dr. Margaret Gaglione, Inside Business - Hampton Roads
November 12, 2007

Those extra pounds are hurting both employees and employers.

According to several recent studies, being overweight and obese places an employee at tremendous risk for job-related injuries. The financial cost to individuals, many of whom do not have disability insurance, can be devastating.

For the employer, the larger financial picture may be even bleaker. Overweight and obese employees will decrease profits as you cover the cost of workman’s compensation and employee absenteeism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than two-thirds of our nation’s adults are currently overweight or obese. These numbers will undoubtedly get worse given that 15 to 25 percent of our children are also overweight and obese.

Several recent studies have highlighted the economic cost of the rampant obesity epidemic.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins recently published a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology that tracked 7,690 manufacturing workers at eight United States aluminum plants. During the 2002 to 2004 study, 29 percent of the workers were injured at least once on the job. Of the 2,221 injured workers, an astounding 85 percent of them were overweight and obese.

One might say that manufacturing companies are an exception to on-the-job injuries by the nature of the laborious work. However, in an article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Duke University researchers looked at their hospital employees over a seven-year period and found that overweight and obese employees filed twice the number of worker’s compensation claims than normal-weight employees. The study also showed that the overweight employee claims amounted to seven times the dollar amount of claims filed by normal-weight employees.

On average, the medical claim of an overweight or obese employee was $51,000 as compared to $7,500 for a normal weight employee. As expected, the cost extends beyond the medical claim. The overweight and obese employee had 13 times the number of days absent as compared with the normal-weight employee.

Not surprising, most of these injuries were mechanical in nature. The Duke researchers found that the lower extremity, hand, wrist and lower back were the most common workman’s compensation injuries.

The lower extremities bear the brunt of the weight burden. Our knees are not designed to withstand the forces placed on them by obesity. And the effect is exponential. When we walk, we place the equivalent of four times our weight on our knees; multiply that by seven when you walk down stairs or run. Therefore, a 250-pound individual places 1,000 pounds of pressure on the knees when walking and 1,750 pounds on the knees when walking down stairs. Have that employee carry 100 pounds on his back and you can easily see why mechanical injuries occur.

Employees and employers have to get serious about weight loss and prevention of further weight gain. The military has a long history of administrative separations for failure to maintain body composition standards. We are not far from a time when other employers will follow suit due to the enormous drain on the bottom line.

The law will probably fall on the side of the employer. The courts have already determined that for most, obesity will not be considered a disability. In a case involving a dock worker, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the Americans with Disabilities Act does not cover individuals with morbid obesity not related to a physiological cause.

Employees and employers both win when companies are proactive in fighting this epidemic. Programs and standards that mandate health and weight standards for all workers will be beneficial to everyone.

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This is the first step in improving your health and lifestyle.

At Tidewater Bariatrics, my staff and I are committed to helping you achieve your weight loss goals.

I am a board certified Bariatrician and Internal Medicine physician. I will tailor a program specific to your needs, time constraints and abilities.

Our program is modeled after successful academic university medical center programs, and is dedicated to decreasing your health risk, improving nutrition, providing health education, and increasing your overall wellness. You can expect to lose weight, improve your cardio-vascular health, and reduce your risk of developing long-term obesity complications.

Even if you already have the complications of obesity, weight loss can decrease or eliminate their effects.

Dr. Margaret Gaglione

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