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Inexpensive Obesity Workplace Programs Can Be Cost-Effective, Study Finds

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | August 26, 2009
Employer incentives
can help fight fat
At work, obesity interventions must focus on low-cost policy to generate a return on investment, according to a new study by Justin Trogdon, Ph.D., a health economist at consultancy RTI International.

Trogdon says that because many employers want information about how cost-effective worksite gyms or nutritional programs might be for overweight patients who drain company health insurance coffers, he calculated the potential savings associated with moderate weight loss.

"Although obesity often raises the risk for hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even some cancers, our study didn't look at which diseases are the most costly," Trogdon tells DOTmed News.

Instead, Trogdon zeroed in on the fact that because obesity leads to chronic health problems, obese employees miss more days of work due to illness and injury than normal weight employees, in addition to spending company money to treat their chronic conditions.

Weight-loss Contests

Trogdon says inexpensive programs for obese employees range from nutritional programs, to building on-site gyms, to weight-loss competitions.

Contests that give overweight employees money if they succeed in shedding extra pounds are extremely popular, Trogdon says. He notes CDC advises that employers use all these tactics, including providing financial incentives for employees to lose weight.

Another issue for debate is whether refusing to hire obese people--and older people in general--is discriminatory or is a matter of dollars and cents.

Lastly, Trogdon says that while his study didn't address the potential savings company executives might derive from covering bariatric surgery for their extremely obese employees, his colleagues, Derek Brown and Eric Finkelstein, have published two articles calculating return on investment for firms that finance this type of surgery.


Funded by CDC, the trial was published in the July issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

For more information on ROI for bariatric surgery, see: Finkelstein, E. A., & Brown, D. S. (2008). Return on investment for bariatric surgery. The American Journal of Managed Care, 14(9), 561-562.

Finkelstein, E. A., & Brown, D. S. (2005). A cost-benefit simulation model of coverage for bariatric surgery among full-time employees. The American Journal of Managed Care, 11(10), 641-646.

Source: RTI