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Study: Depression Most Costly Modifiable Risk Factor for Employers

Depression ranks as the most costly among 10 modifiable risk factors that commonly account for higher health spending for employers, according to a study published in the November issue of Health Affairs, MedPage Today reports (Pittman, MedPage Today, 11/6).

Study Details

For the study, researchers from Emory University and Truven Health Analytics examined data on more than 92,000 workers at seven organizations (Ritchie, "Cincy Biz Blog," Business Courier, 11/6).

They focused on some of the common health risks among employees, such as depression, high blood pressure and obesity, and the subsequent total health costs for treating those conditions (MedPage Today, 11/6).

Study Findings

The study found that the 10 conditions accounted for nearly one-quarter of the cost of health care for the workers from 2005 through 2009 (Rau, Kaiser Health News/NPR, 11/6).

The study also found that workers with depression -- who make up about 11% of the total workforce in the seven companies -- spent an average of $2,184 on health care, which is about 48% more than other workers who did not have the condition.

In addition, the study found that:

  • Workers with high blood sugar had 31.8% higher costs than those without the condition;
  • Workers with high blood pressure had 31.6% higher costs than those without the condition;
  • Obesity was associated with 27.4% higher costs;
  • Tobacco users' health care costs were 16.3% higher than non-tobacco users;
  • Physically inactive workers had costs that were 15.3% greater than their active colleagues; and
  • Workers with high levels of stress had 8.6% higher costs than non-stressed employees (MedPage Today, 11/6).

Overall, the 10 risk factors accounted for $82 million in costs, or 22% of the $366 million in annual spending by the seven companies on employee health, the study found. Average medical spending on each employee was $3,961 annually.


The researchers said the overall results could indicate opportunities for employers to do more to screen workers for high-risk behaviors and offer treatment (Kaiser Health News/NPR, 11/6).

They noted that certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act were designed on the theory that such "modifiable health risks … are associated with increased health care costs in the employed population," adding that employers who adopt risk-reduction programs might save on their health care expenditures in the future (MedPage Today, 11/6).

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