Tag Archives: Obesity

Cigna: Obesity, Skin Cancer Growing Factor in Disability Claims

American businesses lose an average of 2.8 million work days each year due to unplanned absences, costing employers more than $74 billion, so it’s with interest that we read of a significant increase in absence due to obesity and skin cancer in a just released study by Cigna.

According to Cigna’s analysis of 20 years of short-term disability claims, claims related to obesity increased by 3,300 percent between 1993 and 2012.

In 1993, obesity ranked 173 out of 267 diagnostic drivers of absence, accounting for 0.04 percent of claims that year. By 2012, obesity had jumped 133 places to number 40 on the list, accounting for 0.70 percent of claims.

Hat tip to Business Insurance which reports on this story here.

Cigna also reports that new claims and absence related to skin cancer increased more than 300 percent in the 20-year period.

Between 1993 and 2012, skin cancer jumped from 91 to 27 on the list of diagnostic drivers of absence, and its share of claims had increased to 0.9 percent in 2012, up from 0.2 percent in 1993.

The analysis also shows a 45 percent increase in work absence due to the surgical treatment of herniated discs, the most significant increase in short-term disability claims among sedentary occupations over the 1993 to 2012 period.

Cigna notes that the most frequently approved short-term disability claims both 20 years ago and today, remain musculoskeletal disorders, which make up 25 percent of all non-maternity absence.

In a press release, Dr Robert Anfield, chief medical officer for Cigna’s disability insurance unit says:

The aging workforce and a trend towards growing waistlines has made some medical conditions more dominant factors for short-term disabilities than they were 20 years ago. For example, arthritis and tendonitis-related absences have both increased more than 50 percent since 1993.” 

However, the study found significant changes in short-term disability rates for obesity, cancer, depression and herniated discs that uncover the impact of medical advances on absence and productivity.

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on disability.

Check out an I.I.I. study on obesity, liability and insurance here.

Litigation Watch: From Big Tobacco To Food Manufacturers

Food manufacturers are the target of a wave of new lawsuits filed by consumers who allege the companies are mislabeling their products and ingredients.

The New York Times reports that lawyers of Big Tobacco lawsuits searching for the next big payday are now taking aim against food manufacturers. Some 25 cases have been filed against industry players like ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo, Heinz, General Mills and Chobani.

According to the NYT article, the tobacco lawyers are moving particularly aggressively and seeking billions of dollars in damages. For example, they have asked a federal court in California to halt ConAgra’s sales of Pam cooking spray, Swiss Miss cocoa products and some Hunt’s canned tomatoes.

In response, the food companies say the suits are without merit, frivolous  and being driven largely by the lawyers’ financial motivations.

The NYT writes that the lawyers are not the only ones who appear to be targeting the food industry. Recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has sued General Mills for using the term “natural† on its Nature Valley products.

A glance at the CSPI website reveals that Welch and  Splenda Essentials are also facing deceptive health claims on their products.

It’s worth noting that Ferrero, the manufacturers of Nutella recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit over misleading advertising that claimed the chocolate-hazelnut spread was healthy.

In an earlier blog post, we noted the potential liability risk facing food manufacturers, advertising agencies and ingredient manufacturers to name a few from obesity-related tort actions.

But this  new wave of lawsuits appears to be very specific. As the NYT says, the latest litigation
argues that food companies are violating specific rules about ingredients and labels and misleading consumers. This is why it’s so important that food companies comply with federal regulation.

CDC: Obesity Rates by State

At least one in five people is obese in every U.S. state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Latest data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System show that obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7 percent in Colorado to a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.

Some 39 states had a prevalence of 25 percent or more and 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30 percent or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5 percent), followed by the Midwest (29.0 percent), the Northeast (25.3 percent) and the West (24.3 percent).

Here’s the newly released CDC map showing obesity prevalence in each state in 2011:

Note: due to a new baseline established in 2011 for state obesity rates, the CDC cautions that estimates of obesity prevalence from 2011 forward cannot be compared to estimates from previous years.

A USA Today article notes that the CDC map is based on data in which people self-report their height and weight:

Because people tend to underreport their weight, the percentage of people who are obese is probably higher than the statistics indicate.†

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) put the annual cost of treating obesity-related illness at $190.2 billion and  said there was  an urgent need to strengthen prevention efforts in the U.S.

Disney Bans Junk Food Ads As Obesity Risks Increase

Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So the announcement by Walt Disney Co last week that it is banning junk food advertising on its television and radio programs for kids is a welcome move.

Disney’s new standards will apply to all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Disney-owned online destinations targeting families with younger children.

The nutrition guidelines are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Though the rules won’t take effect until 2015, as a parent you have to applaud this effort.

First Lady Michelle Obama described the new initiative as a “game changer† for the health of our children, saying:

This is a major American company – a global brand – that is literally changing the way it does business so that our kids can lead healthier lives. With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. – and what I hope every company will do going forward. When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: “Is this good for our kids?†

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) noted that 87 percent of food and beverage commercials seen by children ages 6-11 on TV advertise foods high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. Meanwhile, older children and adolescents consume more than 7.5 hours of media each day.

In an earlier report Obesity, Liability and Insurance the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) flagged the potential liability risk facing food manufacturers, advertising agencies and ingredient manufacturers to name a few from obesity-related tort actions.

We note that Ferrero, the manufacturers of Nutella recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit over misleading advertising that claimed the chocolate-hazelnut spread was healthy.

And orange juice maker Tropicana is facing lawsuits over labeling its juice as “all natural† amid allegations that the company adds chemically engineered flavoring to its product.

Since the causes of obesity and overweight are varied and complex, it would be naà ¯ve to think that one company’s actions could solve the obesity epidemic.

However, given that media is embedded in our culture and the most frequently marketed foods and beverages are higher in added fats and sugars, any move to make the ads our children see more nutritious at the least will have a positive influence.

The IOM report put the annual cost of obesity-related illness in the U.S. at $190.2 billion. By comparison, the potential cost to Disney is a mere fraction of this amount.

Obesity Prevention: An Urgent Need

A  new report from the  Institute of Medicine (IOM)  has much to say on the obesity epidemic in the United States and the urgent need to strengthen prevention efforts.

“Left unchecked, obesity’s effects on health, health care costs, and our productivity as a nation could become catastrophic,” the report said.

This infographic sums up the IOM’s key findings:

Earlier research  from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that insurers and reinsurers are just one of many industries affected by the obesity issue.


The Office – With Treadmills

How would you feel about conducting a business meeting while walking on a treadmill?

According to an article in the New York Times Sunday Business, “walking meetings† are becoming more common as companies look to keep their employees active and healthy during the work day.

Sitting for long periods is hazardous to your health, increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers.

While many employers already offer on-site gyms, or subsidized gym memberships, the NYT reports:

Now some employers are going a step further by aligning the ‘move while you work’ mandate with the corporate culture. They hope to improve their employees’ health and to lower medical costs in the process.†

The idea of taking shorter exercise breaks during the work day is not only practical but also effective.

The NYT cites a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2007 that monitored the activities of 18 employees over a six month period. The employees were given access to treadmill desks and wireless headsets to promote walking while conducting meetings.

The study found the employees as a group lost more than 150 pounds and lowered their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

You may be laughing, as many of the employees did when exercise was first introduced into their work day, but for those quoted in the NYT it appears the changes have led to better health and more energy at work.

Check out I.I.I. information on health insurance.

Obesity Increases Workers Comp Costs

We’ve blogged before about the rising cost of the obesity epidemic in the United States  both in terms of pounds and dollars.

Now research from the NCCI confirms anecdotal data that work-related injuries are far more costly if the injured worker is obese. Hat tip to Insurance Journal for highlighting this study.

The dramatically higher medical costs suggest that the types and nature of injuries sustained by obese workers, especially the “morbidly obese,† are more likely to result in permanent disabilities, NCCI says.

Given that obese claimants have more permanent disabilities and longer duration of medical treatments, it is highly likely that obese claimants would also have higher indemnity costs than comparable non-obese claimants, it adds.

So what can be done?

According to NCCI, one way for insurers to manage this risk for the benefit of injured workers and to control costs is to collect data on claims for height and weight:

If the data is available, insurers could be aware up front if obesity is likely to be an issue and try to improve the outcome for the injured worker and their family by keeping the claim from becoming a permanent injury, and, in turn, reducing duration. Depending on the added cost in terms of managing these claims, it may also reduce overall claims costs.†

Another important part of managing obesity risk is prevention. NCCI observes:

In terms of prevention, insurers could offer incentives similar to those already in place for drug-free workplaces. Employers can also play a role in prevention by putting programs in place to try to improve lifestyle choices in terms of nutrition and fitness.

It concludes:

However, ultimately, it is up to the individual to take responsibility for their own health.†

An interesting point.

A related article in the Wall Street Journal today reports on how local communities around the country are taking new steps to push residents to improve their health.

The WSJ quotes New York City’s deputy commissioner for environmental health saying:

To have true control over your health is not just about what you can do as an individual but what is being done at the community level.†

What do you think?

Check out I.I.I. information on workers compensation and obesity risk.

Anti-Obesity Initiative

Next week sees the official launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative tackling the problem of childhood obesity. According to reports, the plan will focus on four core areas: increasing the number of healthy schools; increasing physical activity for children; improving access to healthy food options; and empowering consumers to make better eating choices. Politico.com reports on the bipartisan group of Cabinet members and Congressional lawmakers brought together by the first lady at the White House Tuesday to discuss the national campaign. Obesity is a serious health concern for children and adolescents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), latest data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that some 33 percent of children aged 6-11 years and 34 percent of those aged 12-19 years are overweight. The prevalence of obesity in children aged 2 to 19 has also increased, according to the CDC, and studies show that obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. A couple years ago, we  posted an item on  a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found a child’s risk of becoming overweight is down to nature, rather than nurture. Researchers concluded that the idea that genetic influence is such a strong factor in childhood obesity meant that targeting the family may be vital for obesity prevention in the earliest years. Check out I.I.I. information on obesity, liability and insurance.

Obesity Costs

The annual medical burden of obesity has increased to almost 10 percent of all medical spending and may be as high as $147 billion per year (in 2008 dollars), according to a new study from Research Triangle Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Amid the ongoing debate on health care reform, the report suggests real cost savings are more likely to be achieved through reducing obesity and related risk factors. Overall, people who are obese spent $1,429 or 42 percent more for medical care in 2006 than did normal weight people, the study said. The proportion of all annual medical costs that are due to obesity increased from 6.5 percent in 1998 to 9.1 percent in 2006. The costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes, such as diabetes and heart disease. A person is considered obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight measurements. Check out I.I.I. information on obesity.

Obesity Problem Getting Worse

As the debate on health care reform continues, a couple of new reports point to the growing cost of the obesity epidemic in the United States both in terms of pounds and dollars. First the proportion of U.S. adults who are obese increased to 26.1 percent in 2008, up from 25.6 percent in 2007, according to latest data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). Not one state showed a significant decrease in obesity prevalence from 2007 to 2008. In six states – Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia – adult obesity prevalence was 30 percent or more, while 32 states (including those six) had obesity prevalence of 25 percent or more. Only one state, Colorado, had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent. Meanwhile, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that total healthcare expenditures for obese U.S. adults rose from $166.7 billion in 2001 to $303 billion in 2006 – an increase of 82 percent.  When comparing 2001 with 2006, the proportion of total healthcare expenditures for obese adults also increased from 28.1 percent to 35.3 percent while the proportion of total expenditures for adults that were normal weight decreased from 35 percent to 30.3 percent.  A July 8 posting on the LA Times Health blog has more on this story. A person is considered obese if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight measurements. Check out I.I.I. information on obesity.