Smoking and Obesity: Is There a Relationship?

Smoking and Obesity: Is There a Relationship?

Smoking and obesity together are double trouble for employee health. Each can increase healthcare costs. Together, health risks—and expenses—can be compounded.

With more than 40% of U.S. adults meeting criteria for obesity, this health risk is likely already on your radar to address with employees. Strokes, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are just a few of the potential costly health effects your organization absorbs with overweight or obese workers.

To combat this, a growing number of employers are covering weight loss treatments. In fact, 22% of employers are now covering weight loss drugs, 32% offer weight management programs, and as high as 45% now cover bariatric surgery. The costs of these treatments are significant: weight loss drugs cost more than $800 per month, and bariatric surgery can range from $22,000 (outpatient) to $32,000 (inpatient).

What many employers don’t realize is that smoking both causes and compounds the health effects of obesity and results in even poorer health outcomes for employees.

Impact of smoking on obesity

Although there is a perception that people who smoke tend to be leaner than nonsmokers, many studies have shown that smoking is independently associated with an increased risk of central obesity—the excess accumulation of fat in the abdomen. Belly fat, even in normal weight people, is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death.

Research also shows:

Quitting can result in short-term weight gain among some smokers—typically about 10 pounds measured one year after quitting—but studies have shown a wide variation in weight gain with some smokers losing weight and others gaining weight. The benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh the risks of even a 10-pound weight gain, and there are effective ways to avoid weight gain while quitting.

Addressing smoking and obesity together

Today, obesity and smoking are leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the U.S.

Beyond improved health, there are the combined costs savings to consider from helping your employees lose weight AND quit smoking, too. Among individuals with a body mass index of 40 or greater, a 5% weight reduction can yield $2,137 in medical cost savings annually. And when individuals quit smoking, it can translate into over $2,000 saved annually for employers.

So, if you are investing in weight management support for your employees, remember it can be even more impactful and cost effective to also focus on tobacco cessation.

Help employees quit tobacco for good

At the EX Program by Truth Initiative, we work closely with employers to engage employees and dependents in quitting smoking, vaping, and nicotine. Our strategic Client Success team can help your organization with tobacco surcharges, tobacco-free policies, year-round promotions, and more.

To see more details on how we partner with employers like you, please visit our Employers page. Or complete a Contact Us form to start a conversation today.

Jessie Saul Ph.D.

Director, Strategic Insights

Dr. Jessie Saul brings 19 years of experience in research, program evaluation, and strategic implementation around tobacco cessation. She applies this deep understanding to improve EX Program performance and reduce tobacco use among populations. She earned her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.

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