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In U.S., Poor Health Tied to Big Losses for All Job Types

In U.S., Poor Health Tied to Big Losses for All Job Types

by Dan Witters and Diana Liu

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The annual cost to the U.S. in lost productivity due to absenteeism tied to poor health ranges from $160 million among agricultural workers to $24.2 billion among professionals. The total yearly bill across 14 job types for lost productivity due to workers being above normal weight or having a history of chronic conditions is $84 billion.

Cost of Lost Productivity Per Year by Profession Type

These findings are based on more than 94,000 interviews conducted from Jan. 2-Sept. 10, 2012, with American adults who work 30 hours or more per week as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index uses respondents' self-reports of their height and weight to calculate body mass index (BMI) scores. BMI values of 30 or higher are classified as "obese," 25.0 to 29.9 are "overweight," and 18.5 to 24.9 are "normal weight."

Chronic health conditions in this analysis include being overweight or obese; having ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months.

Gallup calculated unhealthy days using respondents' answers to the question, "During the past 30 days, for about how many days did poor health keep you from doing your usual activities?" and "How many actual work days in the last month did you not work due to poor health?"

Across all 14 of the occupations analyzed, an average of 77% of workers were either above normal weight or had been diagnosed with at least one chronic condition over the course of their lifetimes. These individuals report about one extra unhealthy day and close to one-third of a day more of missed work each month compared with their counterparts who are normal weight and have no history of other chronic conditions. Across all workers, the estimated cost of absenteeism to their respective employers is $341 per day. This amount is adjusted in this analysis for each profession to reflect differing levels of average income, but otherwise no demographic controls were included in this analysis to preserve the unique demographic nature of any given profession.

Transportation workers, who make up an estimated 2.9% of full-time workers, report the worst physical health overall of the professions surveyed, with 86% who have subpar health. These workers report 1.41 unhealthy days per month and miss an estimated 0.41 extra work days per month than their counterparts in good physical health. Among all transportation workers, this amounts to an estimated $3.5 billion in absenteeism costs per year that would be recouped if none were overweight or had not been diagnosed with another chronic condition.

Physicians, who led all professions in overall well-being in 2012 and have the best physical health among the 14 professions examined, nevertheless lose an estimated $247 million per year in lost productivity due to substandard health. This is true, despite that fact that physicians with subpar health miss only about 0.04 days per year more than those who are in good health.


Americans are more concerned than ever about obesity and the obesity rate has remained largely unchanged for years. Other chronic conditions also persist, largely unabated.

For American workers in particular, the cost of above-normal weight and other chronic conditions due to absenteeism is substantial, amounting to an estimated $153 billion per year across the entire U.S. workforce.

As employers increasingly engage in improving the health of their workers, substantial potential savings remain on the table from getting more employees to work each day as their health improves over time.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S. and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey with a random sample of 94,366 workers, aged 18 or over, from Jan. 2-Sept. 10, 2012.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points for the smallest group (physicians) but less than ±1 for larger groups such as professionals, service workers, or managers/executives.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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