Smokers, obese take more sick leave

People who engage in unhealthy habits such as smoking, eating a poor diet and not getting enough exercise turn out to be less productive on the job, new Dutch research shows.

Unhealthy lifestyle choices also appear to translate into a greater need for sick leave and longer periods of time off from work when sick leave is taken, the study reveals. The finding is reported in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

"More than 10% of sick leave and the higher levels of productivity loss at work may be attributed to lifestyle behaviours and obesity," Alex Burdorf, of the department of public health at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and colleagues noted in a news release from the journal's publisher.

The study

Between 2005 and 2009, Burdorf and his associates surveyed more than 10,600 people who worked for 49 different companies in the Netherlands.

Participants were asked to discuss both lifestyle and work habits, rating their work productivity on a scale of zero to 10, while offering information about their weight, height, health history and the number of days they had to call in sick during the prior year.

The investigators found that 56% of those polled had taken off at least one day in the preceding year because of poor health. Being obese, smoking, and having poor diet and exercise habits were contributing factors in just over 10% of sick leave occurrences.

In particular, obese workers were 66% more likely to call in sick for 10 to 24 days than normal weight employees, and 55% more likely to take time off for 25 days or more, the study noted.

Smokers also very unhealthy

Smokers also took more sick leave. The cigarette habit translated into a 30% greater likelihood that a worker would take off 10 to 24 days because of poor health, Burdorf and his colleagues reported.

By contrast, those who drank 10 or more glasses of alcohol each week were actually less likely to take time off for poor health, the authors observed.

Overall, the team found that weight appeared to be a key factor in whether or not an individual had an underlying health issue that might prompt needing sick leave.

Among obese workers, 83% said they had developed at least one disease, compared with 75% of overweight workers and 69% of normal weight men and women.

With respect to productivity, 44% felt they performed less than optimally in the day before taking the survey.

Nearly 4%of those with impaired productivity were found to eat less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, while smokers made up 20% of that group.

"Primary interventions on lifestyle may have a noticeable contribution to maintaining a productive workforce," Burdorf and colleagues concluded in their report. (September 2010)

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