To investigate the associations between body mass index (BMI) and sick leave, and the mediating role of emotional exhaustion.
Data were collected from a large survey among Dutch employees (n = 35,022). The causal pathway approach consisting of four regression analyses was applied.
In women, moderate overweight and obesity were associated with higher sick leave; in men, obesity, but not moderate overweight, was associated with higher sick leave. Obese workers were at increased risk for emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion was also associated with higher sick leave rates. Adjustment for emotional exhaustion in the association between BMI and sick leave hardly changed the effect size and significance remained.
The association between BMI status and sick leave can be explained partially by the presence of emotional exhaustion. Workplace health promotion initiatives should take this into account.