Obesity, ill-health and days away from work

Obesity can place undue strain on the heart, joints and spine, increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other conditions, and may contribute to workplace absenteeism according to a bulletin released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Obesity and workplace absenteeism among older Australians examines the relationship between obesity and workplace absenteeism in almost 10,000 employed men and women, using data from Australia's 2001 National Health Survey.

'The analysis indicates that in general obese workers are more likely to be absent from work due to personal illness or injury than non-obese workers, and for a longer time when they are,' Ms Ann Peut, Head of the Institute's Ageing and Aged Care Unit explained.

Obese employees were 17% more likely than non-obese employees to have been absent from work as a result of illness or injury at least one day during the two weeks prior to being interviewed.

Of people who missed work for these reasons, obese employees tended to have more days off than non-obese employees - four days compared to three days.

'These differences suggest that absenteeism related to illness or injury associated with obesity may account for over 4 million lost work days per year,' Ms Peut said.

Also of note was the discovery that obese people were 8% more likely to be 'not in the labour force' than non-obese people and the issue appears to compound with age.

Mature age workers (defined as 45-64 years) comprise almost a third of the Australian labour force, yet older Australians who were obese were 20% less likely to be employed full-time than their non-obese counterparts.

Employees aged 55-64 were less likely to be absent from work for their own illness or injury than their younger counterparts but were away for longer when they were absent, regardless of whether or not they were obese.

'The evidence all suggests that obesity may be influencing absenteeism and preventing workers from staying in the workforce; most likely because of the strong correlation between obesity and chronic diseases and injury,' Ms Peut said.

The issue of obesity, ill-health and workforce participation is particularly relevant in view of Australia's ageing population and the current debate about enabling mature age workers who want to continue to work, to do so.

Australian Health Ministers through the National Obesity Taskforce are developing a framework of actions to address overweight and obesity in adults and older Australians.

10 November 2005

Further information: Ann Peut, AIHW, mob. 0419 296 053.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel 61 2 6244 1032.