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Obesity Increases Absenteeism, Impedes Effectiveness

Want to improve productivity at work? Try heading for the gym. A study published in the January 2004 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that workouts make for better workers. Researchers at the Minneapolis Center for Health Promotion (CHP) surveyed 683 workers — from accountants to auto mechanics — to find out how fitness levels correlated with absenteeism, co-worker relationships and employees’ own perception of their on-the-job effectiveness.

Employees who exercised at least three days a week accomplished more and produced higher-quality work with less effort than their sedentary counterparts. Lead researcher Nicolaas P. Pronk, Ph.D., suggested fit workers have “greater endurance and are less likely to feel fatigue.”

The research suggests that not only can exercise firm up your bottom — it could boost your bottom line. Another study from University of Michigan found moderately to very physically active employees had $250 less annual health care costs than their couch-potato counterparts across all weight groups. In other words, savings from exercise showed up even among the overweight — and in fact, the savings were most profound among the obese, who cut $450 in health care costs when they exercised, adding up to an estimated 1.5% in health care savings for companies across the board.

Health care costs aren’t the only place obesity takes a bite out of profits. The CHP study found that obese workers had more difficulty getting along with co-workers and also had more absentee days. “These problems with co-workers, as well as social stigma, could translate into less motivation to spend time at work,” explains Dr. Pronk. These findings confirm similar correlations between obesity and absenteeism demonstrated in several other studies, including those done by the University of Nevada and Brigham Young University.

The data suggest being active can increase productivity, improve workplace morale and drive ROI by providing opportunities and incentives for exercise, overhauling employee cafeterias and replacing vending machine junk food with healthier fare.

Published March 21, 2005

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