How Obesity Increases the Risk of Disabling Workplace Injuries
The incidence of obesity is growing globally. In the United States, the incidence of obesity is the highest of all reporting countries and the trend continues unabated. Intuitively, the implications of this trend for workers compensation are disturbing.
Recent research confirms anecdotal data—work-related injuries are far more costly if the injured worker is obese. The dramatically higher medical costs suggest that the types and nature of injuries sustained by obese workers, especially the "morbidly obese," are more likely to result in permanent disabilities.
This study advances previous research by analyzing the differences in outcomes between workplace injuries with "obese" and "non-obese" claims. The paper reports on differences in injury types and treatment patterns between a sample of more than 7,000 claims with "obesity" as a secondary diagnosis and another 20,000 claims with virtually identical characteristics—primary diagnosis, gender, industry group, year of injury, state, and approximate age—but no obesity diagnosis.
The study concludes that there are systematic differences in the outcomes for obese and non-obese claimants with comparable demographic characteristics. The study also concludes that there is greater risk that injuries will create permanent disabilities if the injured worker is obese.
Case studies examined in the appendix indicate that, in general, even when both the obese claim and non-obese claim are the same injury type, the range of medical treatments and costs, as well as duration, typically is greater for obese claimants. These examples, however, also indicate that there is considerable variation at the individual claim level and that in some cases the non-obese claim may be more costly. For the case studies examined, treatment categories that tended to be the primary cost drivers included physical therapy, complex surgery, and drugs and supplies.