U.S. Health
Obesity and other chronic illnesses affect 86 percent of full-time employees in the U.S., according to a new Gallup study. REUTERS

Approximately 86 percent of U.S. workers are either overweight or have chronic health conditions that cost more than $153 billion in lost productivity each year, according to a Gallup study released on Monday.

Data collected between January and October of this year from almost 110,000 full-time employees indicates that workers who are overweight or have other health conditions miss an estimated 450 million more days of work each year compared with healthy workers with a normal body mass index (BMI).

The findings are based on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which used respondents' self-reports of their height, weight, chronic conditions and missed work days to come to its conclusion. BMI values of 25 to 29.9 are classified as overweight while those of 30 or higher are considered obese.

Meanwhile, chronic health conditions included in the analysis encompassed obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, depression, recurring physical pain in the neck, back, knee or legs within the previous 12-months, and a history of heart disease. Gallup calculated respondents' unhealthy days by evaluating answers to the question, During the past 30 days, for about how many days did poor health keep you from doing your usual activities?

Full-time workers of normal weight who do not suffer from chronic health conditions -- about 14 percent of the U.S. workforce -- had an average of .34 unhealthy days each month, coming out to about four days each year. Individuals who were overweight or obese were affected slightly more at .36 days each month. However, unhealthy days increased to 1.08 per month (12.9 days per year) for workers with an above-normal weight and one or two chronic illnesses and skyrocketed to 3.51 days per month (42 days a year) for individuals who were overweight with three or more chronic health conditions.

The survey showed that more than 30 percent of the respondents were overweight and had one or two chronic health problems, while nearly 18 percent were overweight with three or more additional ailments.

The results of another question, which asked respondents to specify how many actual days or work they missed in the previous month due to poor health, indicated that employees miss one actual day of work for every three unhealthy days.

Impact on Bottom Line: $153 Billion Per Year

The $153 billion in annual lost profit linked to unhealthy employees -- an amount that Gallup said would increase if it included presenteeism, when employees go to work but are less productive due to poor health -- is more than four times the cost found in the UK, where 20 percent of workers are at a normal weight and have no chronic conditions, significantly more than the 14 percent U.S. figure.

While Gallup wrote that the high percentage of full-time worker who have health problems are a significant drain on productivity for U.S. businesses, a previous report by the organization released on Oct. 7 found that for the first time in three years, more Americans are at normal weight (36.6 percent) than overweight (35.8 percent). However, the majority of Americans are still either overweight or obese.

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50 percent of all deaths each year. The agency reports that a lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption are responsible for the development of many chronic conditions.

Work itself could also be a culprit. A study released earlier this year from the American Cancer Society found that those who have a sedentary job -- common in the U.S., where millions of people work in offices -- have an increased risk for illness. Moreover, the problems that result reportedly cannot be undone by exercising.