Obesity-related cancer deaths on the rise

January 29, 2019

The American Cancer Society recently released its latest statistics on cancer in the United States. The good news is that the death rate from cancer has continued to decline throughout the past 25 years. The bad news is that the obesity epidemic and socioeconomic inequalities threaten to slow this progress as obesity-related cancer deaths continue to rise.

As of 2016, the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 27percent from its peak in 1991, translating to about 1.5percent per year and more than 2.6 million deaths avoided between 1991 and 2016. This is mostly due to efforts to reduce smoking and early detection and treatment.

From an employer perspective, we know that on average, a morbidly obese employee costs an employer more than  $4,000 per year in health care and related costs than an employee who is of normal weight. This has been largely due to the increased prevalence of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or cholesterol. The American Cancer Society research further confirms the impact of being overweight on the increased prevalence of cancer.

Exacerbating the problem that people are still dying from preventable cancers is the negative impact the workplace has on health. Per Jeffrey Pfeffer, Stanford Professor and author of the book Dying for a Paycheck, work environments have become toxic. Longer work hours, work-family conflicts, and less job control and security are destroying the health of our workforce.

But there remains hope for progress. Research from the Integrated Benefits Institute found that improved health, stress, and psychological distress are associated with reduced illness absence and presenteeism (workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning) among overweight and obese employees. Obese employees who lost weight had reduced presenteeism.

Given the potential impact to improve health and productivity, it makes good business sense to invest in workforce well-being. So, where’s an employer to start? We recently offered this advice: Six questions every CEO should ask to improve employee health.

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