April 2, 2010

Obesity’s financial impact on ‘Millenials’ studied

Obesity’s financial impact on ‘Millenials’ studied

The cost of obesity is high for the newest members of the national work force, especially women, and the impact on the nation's productivity and prosperity is significant as well, according to an article by Vanderbilt researchers published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

The article, by Shari Barkin, M.D., director of General Pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics, and Christina Rennhoff, Ph.D., adjunct assistant Professor in the Department of Economics, is part of a special journal edition focusing on those born between 1982 and 1993, known as the Millennial generation.

“An overarching message in this article is every part of our society must

Shari Barkin, M.D.

Shari Barkin, M.D.

Christina Rennhoff, Ph.D.

Christina Rennhoff, Ph.D.

About one in three Millennials, now ages 16-27, are either overweight or obese. The article describes a “wage penalty” for obesity, one that is predicted to be much greater for women than men, though the causes of this disparity are not known.

An economic model designed by Rennhoff found obesity reduces women's earning by nearly 5 percent, translating into a projected loss in earnings of $956 billion for Millennial women and $43 billion for Millennial men over their lifetime.

“It was very surprising to me that the cost is borne by women,” said Rennhoff.

“We think obesity limits the type of work someone can do and may even, in some cases, cause discrimination. We know the costs employers incur for obesity-related health care is passed down to employees in the form of reduced wages, but it makes you wonder which reason is the cause of lower wages for women. We don't know and we need to address that question.”

The authors provided case studies showing how some businesses already investing in obesity reduction programs reap significant financial benefits.

They also included workplace obesity management strategies catering to the unique characteristics of this generation, which include: comfort with technology, independence, flexibility and creativity.

Barkin said any business should consider making obesity reduction a part of good business practices.

Rennhoff said this was the first time she had the opportunity to apply economics to obesity. She called the article an eye-opener for her and suggested people may be becoming deaf to the message about the seriousness of obesity.

“Both in terms of work productivity and health care burden, obesity threatens this generation like no generation before. Given that most of one's adult life is spent on the job, employers have a unique opportunity to contribute to the solution by creating an environmental culture of health. The time to act is now,” Barkin said.

Michael Warren, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, and William Heerman, M.D., a resident in Medicine and Pediatrics, were co-authors of the article.