Binge Eating Impacts Productivity

In what is said to be the study linking binge eating to decreased workplace productivity, researchers say organizations should address this risk by addressing it in health-risk assessments and routine screening.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
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Binge eating may be the next target of health-risk behaviors among employed populations. A new study suggests a strong association between binge eating and productivity impairment.

The study, published in the April issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, estimates the cost of annual productivity losses due to binge eating in a company of 1,000 employees was $107,965. It says efforts to increase productivity should include binge eating as a modifiable risk behavior.

The Association of Binge Eating with Work Productivity Impairment, Adjusted for Other Health Risk Factors study was by researchers Richard C. Bedrosian, and Steven Schwartz, with Wellness & Prevention, a Fort Washington, Pa.-based Johnson & Johnson behavioral health and solutions company; Chun Wang with HealthMedia Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Ruth H. Striegel, a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

The study included nearly 47,000 working adults in the United States between 18 and 65 years of age. They completed health-risk assessments between April 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 percent were identified as binge eaters -- with the workers equally divided between regular and occasional binge eaters.

Impact Affects Obese and Non-Obese

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 researchers say. "Occasional binge eating also was associated significantly with excess impairment."

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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 under-reported 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," they write.

The authors conclude 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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