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Study links severe injuries among overweight, obese workers to higher workers’ comp costs

September 21, 2016

Austin, TX – Overweight and obese workers are more likely to incur high workers’ compensation costs related to major injuries, according to research from the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers examined data from 2,300 lost-time claims in Louisiana to compare workers’ comp costs and outcomes among overweight, obese and normal-weight workers. Workers who had a body mass index between 25 and 30 were characterized as overweight, while workers who had a BMI of at least 30 were considered obese. More than 75 percent of workers’ comp claimants were overweight or obese. Major injuries included broken bones and complete tendon tears.

Researchers found that being overweight or obese are significant risk factors for high workers’ comp costs for major injuries. Costs for major injuries averaged about $270,000 for overweight workers and $470,000 for obese workers, compared with $180,000 for normal-weight workers.

After adjusting the data for factors such as expensive spinal surgeries and spinal injections, the researchers also determined that overweight or obese workers with major injuries were roughly twice as likely to have workers’ comp costs of at least $100,000.

However, they noted that BMI had no effect on costs for less-severe injuries. In addition, researchers found no connection between overweight or obese workers and a postponed return to work. They said more research is needed to verify that higher workers’ comp costs connected to high BMI are associated with medical costs instead of costs for lost work time.

The study was published in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.