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