Most Americans have at least one chronic health condition, according to the new poll. Whether it’s obesity or a combination of health conditions, it’s costing U.S. businesses 450 million additional lost work days each year — translating to $153 billion.
The figure does not include presenteeism — when employees go to work but are less productive because of poor health or well-being. Nor does it include part-time workers. Adding those factors into the mix would likely bring the figure to above the $1 trillion mark, according to the research.
Gallup questioned nearly 110,000 full-time U.S. workers between Jan. 2 and Oct. 2. Based on respondents’ answers about height and weight, the researchers calculated body mass index scores. BMI values of at least 30 were classified as obese, those 25 to 29.9 were overweight, and 18.5 to 24.9 was considered normal weight.
Other chronic health conditions considered for the survey included having been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression, and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months.
Gallup calculated unhealthy workdays based on responses to the question, “During the past 30 days, for about how many days did poor health keep you from doing your usual activities?” To estimate how unhealthy days per month translate into missed workdays, Gallup asked: “Earlier, you indicated that you had xx days in the last month where poor health prevented you from doing your usual activities. How many actual workdays in the last month did you not work due to poor health?” The results indicated that one unhealthy day per month for full-time workers is equivalent to about 0.31 actual missed days of work.
About 86 percent of respondents reported having at least one chronic health condition. Those of normal weight with no comorbidities averaged 0.34 unhealthy days each month, or about four days per year. With each additional condition, the number of unhealthy days per month increased, as follows:
Those overweight or obese averaged 0.36 days per month.
Overweight/obese workers with one to two additional chronic conditions averaged 1.08 unhealthy days per month.
Overweight/obese workers with at least three additional comorbidities averaged 3.51 unhealthy days per month, or 42 days per year.
Normal weight workers with one to two chronic conditions averaged 1.07 unhealthy days per month.
Normal weight workers with at least three chronic comorbidities averaged 3.48 unhealthy workdays.
The researchers said the annual lost productivity costs linked to unhealthy workers in the U.S. was more than four times the cost in the United Kingdom. Where about 14 percent of full-time workers in the U.S. have no chronic health conditions, the figure is 20 percent for workers in the U.K.
“The high percentages of fulltime U.S. workers who have less than ideal health are a significant drain on productivity for U.S. businesses,” the report said. “However, employees and employers have the opportunity to potentially increase productivity if they address the health issues that are currently plaguing the workplace.”