The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, estimated the cost of annual productivity loss due to binge eating in a company of 1,000 employees was $107,965. It said efforts to reduce productivity impairment should include binge eating as a modifiable risk behavior.
The study included nearly 47,000 working adults in the U.S. between 18 and 65 years of age. They completed health risk assessment questionnaires between April 2010 and November 2010.
Binge eating was measured by answers to the following four questions:
- Do you ever eat what other people would consider an unusually large amount of food?
- In the past month, did you feel like you lost control of your eating?
- In the past month, how many times have you eaten what other people would consider an unusually large amount of food?
- In the past month, how many times did you feel you lost control of your eating?
Regular binge eating was defined as overeating at least four times a month and reporting loss of control at least four times a month. Occasional binge eaters included those who reported both overeating and loss of control once a month or more, but either one occurred less than four times a month.
Of the sample, 9.4 percent were identified as binge eaters, including 4.7 percent of regular binge eaters and 4.7 of occasional binge eaters.
While binge eating was significantly more common among obese individuals, productivity impairment was also noted among non-obese binge eaters.
"Excess impairment associated with regular binge eating was third highest, with only depression and stress associated with even greater impairment," the research said. "Occasional binge eating also was associated significantly with excess impairment."
The study also estimated the financial impact of binge eating on productivity for a company with 1,000 employees. "When adjusting for all other health risk factors, about 3 percent of annual lost productivity -- $60,905 -- was attributable to recurrent binge eating, or 5 percent -- $107,965 -- to any binge eating."
The authors suggest employers target binge eating in workplace prevention or disease management programs. They note that individuals who binge eat gain more weight than others. "Therefore, efforts to prevent excess weight gain or obesity should target binge eating as a modifiable health risk behavior."
The study is said to be the first to examine work productivity impairment associated with binge eating among employees. The authors suggest that questions about binge eating be included in health risk assessments to identify individuals with the problem.
"Although binge eating remains an underreported behavior, possibly because of shame and stigma associated with overeating, a number of studies indicate that disclosure of potentially stigmatizing behaviors is more likely to occur in response to computer based assessments rather than live interviews or paper and pencil questionnaires," the study said.
The authors concluded that binge eating is an independent source of work productivity impairment even at relatively low frequency levels. "These data suggest that efforts to improve the health, productivity and performance of employee populations will be incomplete if they do not include routine screening and interventions for binge eating behavior."
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May 31, 2012
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