The cost of overweight and obesity in the workplace

Excess body weight and lack of physical activity is known to contribute to chronic health conditions.   Australia ranks in the worst third of OECD countries for obesity among people over the age of 15 with a whopping 63% of Australians said to be either overweight or obese.  And this trend is on the increase; back in 2004 - 2005, the National Health Survey indicated that just over half of us (54%) were classified as overweight or obese.  We have a growing problem (pun intended).

This high incidence of every increasing girth size has implications for individuals, no doubt about it, but it also has implications for employers.  Overweight employees are more likely to have higher health risks, short-term disability and longer absences due to illness than those of a healthy weight.  They are more likely to require sick leave more often and  are more prone to injury.  This leads to less productivity, more lost time injuries and higher claim costs.

Progressive Australian employers are recognising the importance of and their role in public health matters like the rising rates of overweight and obesity.  They see this as an integral part of their employee engagement and experience strategies.  Smart leaders now realise that high performing organisations are driven by healthy  high performing employees.  They acknowledge that healthy, happy employees are significant contributors to their success.

Workplace wellbeing programs need to move beyond the feel good factor and the three "F's" (fruit, fitness and flu shots).  Research tells us that investing in employee wellbeing, and more specifically in weight management programs, leads to reduced costs associated with sick leave, workers compensation and productivity.  What we know is that a well-designed and executed program will not only support healthy weight loss, it improves sleep quality, stress management, and resilience.  Your employees will be able to bring their best to work and still have energy left in the tank to give their best to their families at the end of the day.

As an employer you can support your employees to reduce the risks of becoming overweight or obese (or lose the weight in a healthy, sustainable way).  Implementing policies on overall wellbeing and putting programs in place that make healthy choices easier is a good start.  In many cases it may not cost you any more money than you are currently spending on employee engagement, its about aligning those funds to give you a better return on investment.  Remember, whether you assign a budget to health and wellbeing or not, employee health, or lack thereof, is costing you time, money and productivity, regardless.   

As both a wellbeing consultant and clinician I can make the design, development, and delivery of your policies and programs easier.  I've invested the last 20 years working with individuals, teams and organisations to build better workplaces with more engaged employees.  I partner with employers to design and deliver fun and engaging seminars, workshops, wellbeing programs and health retreats that get results.  If you're organisation is ready to step up to the plate and make public health personal, then I invite you to give me a call to discuss how we can work together and when we can get started.

For more information email me at or visit

Words by Mary-Leigh Scheerhoorn.  Stats by Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, June 2018.