9 In 10 American Workers Are Overweight

The struggles of the American worker are by now well-known. He is is either out of work, or if he is lucky enough to have a spot in the workforce, he is overworked as employers seek to come up with effective business models amid a challenging economic environment. And now comes this -- he's wildly unhealthy to boot.

A new survey conducted by Gallup finds that 86 percent of American workers are above normal weight. That measure is based on interviews with 109,875 full-time employees conducted between Jan. 2 and Oct. 2 of this year. Comparatively, 68 percent of all Americans are above normal weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And the metric is based on the standard Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a calculation of weight and height and qualifies scores of 25.0 to 29.9 as "overweight," above 30 as "obese."

Not surprisingly, such a stat has led to a raft of problems for the American economy. Overweight and obese workers miss an estimated 450 million additional days of work each year compared with healthy workers, Gallup calculates. (That figure also includes time missed by workers who are absentee as a result of other "chronic health conditions.") And the price tag on this loss of productivity comes in at more than $153 billion a year, according to Gallup.

And as a Wall Street Journal article notes, the survey's results were based on self-reported statistics, a fact which must also be taken into consideration when sizing up the unhealthy American labor market.

"The numbers could be even higher. Studies have shown that people tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height," writes the Journal's Phil Izzo.

Among the leading studies that have demonstrated such a dynamic is the scholarly article, "A comparison of direct vs. self-report measures for assessing height, weight and body mass index: a systematic review," published in July 2007 by the journal, Obesity Review.

An economic climate characterized by both an overweight and unhealthy workforce, and a business climate in which employers are moved to push their staffers to their maximum, presents an automatic clash. And as was reported on AOL Jobs in July, six cities (Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Urbana, Ill.; Washington, D.C. and Binghamton, N.Y.) and the state of Michigan, have enacted laws in the last two decades against weight discrimination.

The laws have coincided with the growth of the obesity epidemic in America, which has seen every state in the union, except for Colorado and the District of Columbia, surpass an obesity rate of 20 percent since 1986. As a trailblazer on the matter, Santa Cruz in 1995 added weight to the following list of civil rights classifications to be protected in the workplace: race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation and height.

Perhaps because the very concept of legally protecting the overweight worker is so new, the chances of actually winning cases related to weight discrimination are still quite low, leading commentators say.

"Most employers would not admit this, and would say they [lean workers] are more productive or whatever," says Jennifer Pomeranz, the director of Legal Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, in an email to AOL Jobs. "But if they were sued for not promoting or hiring someone based on their weight, generally the plaintiff does not have a case outside of Michigan."

Next: Is Discrimination Against Overweight Workers a Hefty Problem?



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