Spotlight on article published in

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

IBI Spotlights call attention to important health and productivity findings from peer-reviewed work. The research described in this particular Spotlight is authored or co-authored by an IBI researcher. IBI members are encouraged to obtain the original articles from the copyright holder.

What is the Issue?

Modifiable health risks such as smoking, obesity, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity have well-established links to preventable diseases that Impact work productivity. On the other hand, the proposition that reducing health risks can lead to higher productivity is a bit more difficult to support empirically.

What are the findings/solutions?

On average, employees who lost weight or increased their level of physical activity also had reduced illness absences from work. The change in health status explains some, but not all of the BMI results and none of the exercise results. Changes in smoking had no association with changes in illness absences.

Journal Citation

Gifford, B. (2013). Modifiable Health Risks and Illness Absence From Work: Evidence From the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 55(3), 245-251.


Modifiable health risks such as smoking, exercise, and body weight have been linked to illness absence from work. This suggests that employers could improve their productivity if their workers adopted healthier lifestyles, but methodological concerns regarding selection bias and omitted variables remain.


We use a first-difference model of changes in health behaviors and illness- and family-related absence from work among a nationally representative, longitudinal panel of employed individuals.


  • Workers who lost weight or increased their frequency of light exercise also saw their illness absences decrease over a 2-year period.
  • Some, but not all, of the relationship is mediated by the change in health status.
  • No such decrease was observed for family-related absences.


The findings are consistent with the proposition that both employers and employees could benefit from efforts to support better health habits.