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Individuals living with overweight or obesity are more likely to be absent from work due to ill health than those with normal weight. They are also more likely to absent for longer, new research being presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice, Italy (12-15 May) has found.

They have up to 147% (2.47 times) higher odds of being off due to ill health and up to 121% (2.21 times) higher odds of being absent for more than seven days in the most recent 12 months, the Europe-wide study showed.
Understanding how economic costs and labor market outcomes are associated with living with overweight or obesity is important in light of the prevalence of overweight (approx. 53 %) and obesity (16%) in Europe.
However, most studies on the subject have used national survey data and so do not allow for direct comparisons between countries and there are some countries for which data hasn’t been available.
Siegfried Eisenberg MSc, study leader Dr. Thomas Czypionka and colleagues at the Health Economics and Health Policy Research Group, Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, Austria used data from the third wave of the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS 3), which compares the health and use of health services across the EU, to assess the impact of body mass index (BMI) on labor market outcomes in 26 European countries. Most of the data was collected in 2019.
Answers to survey questions were used to estimate the impact of overweight (BMI ≥25 to <30) and obesity (class I: BMI ≥30 to <35, class II: BMI ≥35 to <40, class III: BMI ≥40) compared to normal weight (BMI ≥18.5 to <25) on being absent from work and the number of days of absence due to health issues.

BMI was calculated from weight and height, as reported in the questionnaire. A question that asked whether a person had been absent from work in the past 12 months due to health issues, and if yes, the number of days, provided the information on absenteeism.
The results were adjusted for age, sex, education, country, economic sector of employment, occupation, employment status and whether it was a full-time or part-time job. A total of 122,598 responses, weighted to represent a population of about 147 million people in employment across 26 European countries, were included in the main analysis.
The analysis found that individuals living with overweight or obesity had significantly higher odds of being absent from work compared to those of normal weight. Individuals living with overweight, obesity I, obesity II and obesity III had 12%, 36%, 61% and 147% (2.47 times) higher odds of being absent, respectively.
A group of 41,469 weighted responses representing about 54 million people were included in a subgroup analysis of individuals who reported being absent from work due to health issues. Individuals living with overweight, obesity I, obesity II and obesity III had 22%, 38%, 52% and 121% (2.21 times) higher odds of being absent for more than seven days, respectively.
Effect sizes differ between countries in both analyses. For example, in some countries, e.g. the Czech Republic, Denmark, people who were living with overweight had 30% higher odds of being absent from work due to health reasons than those with normal weight. In other countries, there was no significant difference between the two groups. However, these findings should be interpreted with caution as the effect sizes calculated are dependent on sample size and other characteristics of the national surveys.

Similarly, people living with obesity III had about 150% (for example, in Estonia and Italy) to 400% (for example, in the Czech Republic and Denmark) higher odds of being absent due to heath reasons than those with normal weight, depending on the country studied. The same caveats should be applied when interpreting these figures.
The authors conclude that across Europe as a whole, people living with overweight or obesity have a higher probability of being absent from work due to health issues than people with normal weight. They are also likely to take more sick days.
Eisenberg says, “Our results show that it is not only health care systems are affected by people living with obesity, but also economies as a whole all across Europe. An increasing prevalence of people living with overweight and obesity will result in an increasing number of absences due to health issues in European countries, with knock-on effects on productivity and the economy.”
Dr. Czypionka adds, “The health consequences and economic consequences of obesity are massive. With the current trajectory of obesity and childhood obesity prevalence that many countries are on, policymakers need to take more action to fight obesity using all evidence-based measures available.”

Provided by
European Association for the Study of Obesity

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Those with overweight or obesity more likely to be absent from work due to ill health than those with normal weight (2024, May 13)
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