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Obesity, diet quality and absenteeism in a working population

  • Sarah Fitzgerald (a1), Ann Kirby (a2), Aileen Murphy (a2) and Fiona Geaney (a1)
Abstract Objective

The relationship between workplace absenteeism and adverse lifestyle factors (smoking, physical inactivity and poor dietary patterns) remains ambiguous. Reliance on self-reported absenteeism and obesity measures may contribute to this uncertainty. Using objective absenteeism and health status measures, the present study aimed to investigate what health status outcomes and lifestyle factors influence workplace absenteeism.


Cross-sectional data were obtained from a complex workplace dietary intervention trial, the Food Choice at Work Study.


Four multinational manufacturing workplaces in Cork, Republic of Ireland.


Participants included 540 randomly selected employees from the four workplaces. Annual count absenteeism data were collected. Physical assessments included objective health status measures (BMI, midway waist circumference and blood pressure). FFQ measured diet quality from which DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) scores were constructed. A zero-inflated negative binomial (zinb) regression model examined associations between health status outcomes, lifestyle characteristics and absenteeism.


The mean number of absences was 2·5 (sd 4·5) d. After controlling for sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics, the zinb model indicated that absenteeism was positively associated with central obesity, increasing expected absence rate by 72 %. Consuming a high-quality diet and engaging in moderate levels of physical activity were negatively associated with absenteeism and reduced expected frequency by 50 % and 36 %, respectively. Being in a managerial/supervisory position also reduced expected frequency by 50 %.


To reduce absenteeism, workplace health promotion policies should incorporate recommendations designed to prevent and manage excess weight, improve diet quality and increase physical activity levels of employees.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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