The hidden cost of obesity in the workplace

Obesity is a global public health concern that affects not only those living with the condition, but also workplace productivity, company culture and employee wellbeing.

June 19, 2024

With 60% of the working age population (16-64 years old) currently living with overweight or obesity - and 68% of UK employees in agreement that weight discrimination exists in the workplace1 - obesity’s impact on people within the workforce and the wider economy should not be understated. 

The economic impacts of obesity in the workplace

We have seen an exponential rise in obesity rates over the last 5 years, with nearly two-thirds of UK adults now living with overweight or obesity.2 The hidden costs associated with this complex health condition are increasingly being recognised. According to a report by the Tony Blair Institute, obesity-related conditions cost the UK economy approximately £98 billion each year.3

From reduced productivity and absenteeism4 to increased healthcare utilisation5 for associated conditions, obesity creates significant challenges for employers. As a causative factor in over 200 chronic conditions, obesity is closely associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and issues with fertility.6 Recently, obesity was  linked to over 30 different types of cancer. 

Across all sectors, the increased levels of absenteeism and presenteeism disrupt workflow and project timelines, impacting overall business performance and profitability. Furthermore, research from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows there is a significant difference in overall work productivity impairment between those classified with a healthy BMI and those classified with at least one obesity class (BMI ≥30).7

Published research in leading journals has proved that not only do employees living with obesity experience higher absenteeism and presenteeism,8 but they also require extended periods of absence.9,10 These increased absences contribute to elevated annual productivity costs for employees living with overweight (on average, £4,340) and employees living with obesity (on average, between £5,038 and £7,165).11

Obesity and mental health

The impact of obesity on mental health in the workplace is underestimated and unacknowledged. Employees living with obesity have reported facing stigma, discrimination, isolation, shame and lower self-esteem, which can affect their overall wellbeing and job satisfaction.12 Without emotional and social support from line-managers and colleagues, employees living with obesity can experience ‘reduced wellbeing, increased stresses and maladaptive coping responses.’13 This, in turn, can lead to higher turnover rates and recruitment costs for employers, as well as a decline in team morale and cohesion.

Obesity in safety-critical industries

Safety-critical industries, such as transportation and construction, face additional challenges caused by the rising prevalence of obesity. Workers in these sectors often need to perform physically demanding tasks, and obesity can impair their ability to carry out their duties safely, increasing the number of work-related accidents and injuries.14

Workers living with obesity face increased risks of heat exhaustion, physiological and respiratory strain and accidents involving equipment due to decreased mobility. They are also more susceptible to decompression sickness, high-altitude intolerance and pesticide exposures.15

The fit, effectiveness and availability of personal protective equipment may also be limited for employees living with obesity, further increasing their vulnerability to workplace hazards. 

Research has shown that in long-haul lorry drivers, obesity-related conditions like sleep apnoea and disordered breathing have been found to be risk factors in traffic accidents.16

Obesity in office-based companies

A study involving employees at the First Chicago Bank showed that participants classified with higher BMIs experienced more health risks, short-term absences and incurred higher healthcare costs compared to their healthier weight colleagues.17

Participants living with obesity were 1.7 times more likely to need at least seven days’ sick leave due to illness, and were 1.6 times more likely to need three to six days’ sick leave over a period of six months.18 Lower productivity levels were also observed in participants living with obesity when compared with their healthier weight colleagues.19

How employers can support employees living with overweight and obesity

Employers have an important moral and legal duty of care in promoting employee health and wellbeing, including creating a safe and supportive working environment. Obesity is a complex health condition that can have a significant impact on both the physical and mental wellbeing of those living with it. 

Here are ways employers can support their staff with overweight and obesity:

  1. Occupational health and specialist weight-management support: Recognising that access to services in the NHS is very limited, partner with health organisations to provide resources and support for employees seeking to manage their weight. This can include access to medical services or specialist weight-management programmes. Examine ways these programmes can be included in workplace benefits, so as not to be financially onerous to the employee.
  2. Workplace policies: Implement policies that support healthier choices in the working environment, such as offering healthy, whole food options in canteens and vending machines, promoting standing/walking meetings and providing flexible working hours that allow employees to engage in physical activity. Ensure that office furniture is inclusive for all body shapes and that workplaces are both easily accessible and welcoming for all employees.
  3. Raise awareness: Educate employees around weight-based stigma and discrimination. Through workshops, training sessions and open discussions, employers can foster a more inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued.
  4. Encourage physical activity: Create opportunities for employees to be active during the workday, such as providing access to on-site gyms or organising fitness classes. For employees who prefer not to join fitness classes or gyms, arrange regular lunchtime walks or other alternatives. Encouraging regular exercise not only helps employees maintain a healthy weight but also improves overall wellbeing and reduces stress levels. 
  5. Engage support networks: Partner with patient advocacy organisations to provide specialist support including key resources, counselling and peer support groups. Engaging with these organisations reassures your employees with obesity that access to support that understands their challenges is available and encouraged.

(N.B. It’s important to stress that these suggestions must always be offered in a compassionate and non-stigmatising way to make sure that those who need the support do not feel blamed for their condition.)

Creating a culture of health and wellbeing within the workplace can have a positive impact on employee morale, productivity and retention. By prioritising the health of their workforce, employers not only demonstrate their commitment to employee welfare but also contribute to creating a more positive and supportive work environment. It has been evidenced that weight stigma is the last accepted form of discrimination.20

Employers that foster an inclusive and respectful workplace enhances employee morale and productivity, reduces turnover and boosts job satisfaction. It promotes diversity, leading to greater creativity and innovation. By actively combating weight bias, employers position themselves as progressive leaders, attracting top talent and improving overall company culture.

What to consider when implementing employee health programmes for obesity

To support employees living with overweight and obesity and to provide a cost-effective solution, it’s essential for employers to evaluate the impact of their health programmes. Here are some key factors to consider when assessing your company's approach:

  • Evidence-based interventions: Ensure that your chosen health programmes are grounded in scientific evidence and have proven effectiveness in addressing obesity. Look for interventions supported by reputable research and consider partnering with experts to implement them successfully.
  • Tracking and monitoring: Establish partnerships with health programmes that track and monitor the impact of their intervention. Review data on sick leave rates and productivity levels before and after implementing your programmes to assess their effectiveness.
  • Employee engagement: Evaluate the level of employee participation and satisfaction with your initiatives. Seek feedback through surveys to identify areas for improvement and tailor your programmes to better meet employees' needs and preferences. Ensure that surveys can be anonymised and offer employees the opportunity to suggest new initiatives themselves.
  • Long-term sustainability: Consider the long-term sustainability of your health programmes, focussing on creating an overall culture of health in the workplace. This involves integrating initiatives into the organisational structure that address the specific desires and needs of your workforce.

Roczen’s specialist weight-management service

Roczen offers two clinically proven programmes, Roczen and Roczen Plus.


Our Roczen programme introduces a range of targeted diet interventions (including intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating and low-carbohydrate diets), alongside expert guidance on eating behaviours, nutrition and fitness. Each patient receives a fully bespoke healthcare plan tailored to their individual needs and goals.

Roczen Plus

Our medication-supported programme, Roczen Plus, incorporates all the Roczen programme has to offer, with the addition of the latest NICE and NHS-approved GLP-1/GIP or GLP-1 weight-loss medications to support safe and effective weight loss and maintenance. Our online medical clinic is led by Professor Barbara McGowan, an expert lead investigator in multiple clinical trials involving pharmacotherapy for obesity, including GLP-1/GIP and GLP-1 medications.

If you’ve decided to support your employees living with overweight and obesity, why should you choose Roczen?

Our digital weight-management programmes are designed and led by NHS doctors, nurses, dietitians and psychologists with specialist expertise in obesity, weight management and Type 2 diabetes. As a clinical service regulated by the Care Quality Commission, we operate at the highest standard of care in a safe and supportive environment.

We’ve partnered with leading public and private organisations, including the NHS, TfL and Morgan Sindall, to support their employees achieve better health. These clinical outcomes in workforce support have been presented internationally at leading medical conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals. We offer the flexibility to partner with existing Operational Health departments or work independently alongside your HR team.

We are currently the only CQC-regulated provider that is recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) to prescribe advanced weight-loss medications such as Wegovy and Mounjaro with a B2B offering for employers. 

With the most advanced and effective bespoke programmes, delivered by expert consultants who are leaders in their field, you can trust that your employees are receiving exceptional service and unrivalled patient care. Our community support groups (accessible via the Roczen app) provide an additional level of care from fellow Roczen patients who understand and empathise with their condition.

To find out how our digital weight-management service could help your employees, why not get in touch?





5 Nørtoft E, Chubb B, Borglykke A. Obesity and healthcare resource utilization: comparative results from the UK and the USA. Obes Sci Pract. 2017 Dec 28;4(1):41-45. doi: 10.1002/osp4.148. PMID: 29479463; PMCID: PMC5818755.

6 De Lorenzo A, Gratteri S, Gualtieri P, Cammarano A, Bertucci P, Di Renzo L. Why primary obesity is a disease? J Transl Med. 2019 May 22;17(1):169. doi: 10.1186/s12967-019-1919-y. PMID: 31118060; PMCID: PMC6530037.

7 Kudel I, Huang JC, Ganguly R. Impact of Obesity on Work Productivity in Different US Occupations: Analysis of the National Health and Wellness Survey 2014 to 2015. J Occup Environ Med. 2018 Jan;60(1):6-11. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001144. PMID: 29065062; PMCID: PMC5770108.

8 Bustillos, A.S., Vargas III, K.G. and Gomero-Cuadra, R. Work productivity among adults with varied Body Mass Index: Results from a Canadian population-based survey. Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health. 2015 Jun;5(2): 191-199. doi: 10.1016/j.jegh.2014.08.001.

9 Jans MP, van den Heuvel SG, Hildebrandt VH, Bongers PM. Overweight and obesity as predictors of absenteeism in the working population of the Netherlands. J Occup Environ Med. 2007 Sep;49(9):975-80. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31814b2eb7. PMID: 17848853.

10 Tsai SP, Gilstrap EL, Colangelo TA, Menard AK, Ross CE. Illness absence at an oil refinery and petrochemical plant. J Occup Environ Med. 1997 May;39(5):455-62. doi: 10.1097/00043764-199705000-00012. PMID: 9172091.

11 Goettler A, Grosse A, Sonntag D. Productivity loss due to overweight and obesity: a systematic review of indirect costs. BMJ Open. 2017 Oct 5;7(10):e014632. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-014632. PMID: 28982806; PMCID: PMC5640019

12 Segal Y, Gunturu S. Psychological Issues Associated With Obesity. 2024 May 2. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. PMID: 38753901.

13 Bajorek, Z. and Bevan, S. Obesity stigma at work: Improving inclusion and productivity. Brighton Institute for Employment Studies. 2020.

14 Gu JK, Charles LE, Andrew ME, Ma CC, Hartley TA, Violanti JM, Burchfiel CM. Prevalence of work-site injuries and relationship between obesity and injury among U.S. workers: NHIS 2004-2012. J Safety Res. 2016 Sep;58:21-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jsr.2016.06.001. Epub 2016 Jun 14. PMID: 27620931; PMCID: PMC5259819.

15 Henschel A. Obesity as an occupational hazard. Can J Public Health. 1967 Nov;58(11):491-3. PMID: 6077080.

16 Stoohs RA, Guilleminault C, Itoi A, Dement WC. Traffic accidents in commercial long-haul truck drivers: the influence of sleep-disordered breathing and obesity. Sleep. 1994 Oct;17(7):619-23. PMID: 7846460.

17  Burton, W. N., Chen, C. Y., Schultz, A. B., & Edington, D. W. The economic costs associated with body mass index in a workplace. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine. 1998 Sep;40(9): 786-792. doi: 10.1097/00043764-199809000-00007.

18 Burton, W. N., Chen, C. Y., Schultz, A. B., & Edington, D. W. The economic costs associated with body mass index in a workplace. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine. 1998 Sep;40(9): 786-792. doi: 10.1097/00043764-199809000-00007.

19 Burton, W. N., Chen, C. Y., Schultz, A. B., & Edington, D. W. The economic costs associated with body mass index in a workplace. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine. 1998 Sep;40(9): 786-792. doi: 10.1097/00043764-199809000-00007.

20 Sampath S., Weight bias—the last accepted form of discrimination. BC Medical Journal, 2020.

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