Understanding Type 2 Diabetes in the Workplace

It is estimated that there is close to a quarter of a million people in Ireland living with diabetes. 90% is type 2 which is lifestyle related and for the majority both avoidable and reversible. The majority of those with diabetes are part of the workforce, unlike 20 years ago when type 2 was regarded as a disease of the older population. Diabetes is a significant contributor to absenteeism, presenteeism and mental health issues. The workplace  environment and conditions can have a big impact on the health of those employees that struggle with blood sugar issues associated with diabetes and medical complications.

Not enough exercise and movement, eating processed foods, shift work, a stressful work and personal life is the perfect storm for type 2. Other factors significantly increase that risk such as having a tendency to store fat about the tummy area or if a family member has it. If your canteen serves cheap processed foods and your workforce is mostly sedentary and stressed then the strong likelihood is that you will have a large portion of staff at risk of T2 diabetes with possibly 10% of them having it. This is especially true if they do shift work where some studies show a whopping 40% added risk if it includes night shifts.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and lifestyle is not thought to impact a diagnosis.

However, for both type 1 and type 2, lifestyle adjustments will be necessary to maintain healthy blood sugars and most importantly avoid debilitating medical complications.

Every month in Ireland at least 1,000 new people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and hundreds are told they have pre-diabetes or are at risk.

The majority of these people fall into the 40-59 year old age group. A recent Healthy Ireland survey reported that 854,165 adults over 40 in the Republic of Ireland are at increased risk of developing or have Type 2 diabetes.

More alarmingly, there are a further 304,382 in the 30 – 39 year old age group that are overweight and not taking the weekly 150 minutes recommended physical activity, leaving them at an increased risk of chronic ill-health.

That’s one third of all adults! The same numbers apply to many countries across the world.

This is an important part of our workforce and it will impact on productivity and cost to employers. Research shows that those with diabetes have an average of 5-11 extra sick days per year.  In companies that employ large amounts of at-risk workers it can be a costly mistake not to address it before it becomes an issue. The workplace has been identified as the best place to run prevention programmes which will also benefit those who are already dealing with a pre-diabetes or diabetes diagnosis.

Because the symptoms of type 2 are vague and the onset is usually slow many people do not even visit their doctor until the disease is well established. It is not uncommon to have it for up to 5 years before diagnosis by which time there is already damage to the eyes, heart disease will be setting in and there are risks to liver and kidneys. Left unchecked it can be a cruel disease.Making lifestyle changes requires a shift in mindset and creating a whole new set of habits. Dealing with a diagnosis as well as making lots of change can be overwhelming for many people and is not to be underestimated.

The workplace can be a great place to help in this and the beauty is that all of the information shared will be of value to everyone as an ‘anti-diabetes’ lifestyle will reduce risk of heart disease and some cancers as well as boosting immune systems and improving vitality and concentration.

This year World Diabetes Day falls on November 14th and November is generally regarded as World Diabetes Month which is a perfect time to address Diabetes in the workplace.

Up to 80% are overweight or obese and it is those that tend to carry weight around their tummy that are most at risk. However, not everyone is overweight – genetics, ethnicity and lifestyle factors mentioned earlier can lead to a diagnosis regardless of body mass index or waist size.

As there is such a link with body weight and type 2 diabetes those that have it often feel a sense of guilt and shame. A diabetes diagnosis also carries a significant burden of fear as a quick online search will show that diabetes is a leading cause of blindness and amputations plus many more potential complications. Everyone does their best to make necessary changes but support services are limited and this is one area where people definitely need help.

It is the opportune time to have a lunch-time talk on healthy blood sugars. Alternatively, webinars, blogs or videos specific created for your workforce are valuable plus it removes any discomfort people may have if they are very overweight or have a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes. The Diabetes Dept. can help you with this.

This puts diabetes on the radar and may encourage people to share their stories in the same way that we talk about cancer or heart disease. Diabetes is reversible and there is a good chance that you have an employee who has done this and is willing to share their story.

More and more health information is demonstrating the health horrors of excess sugar and starch in our diet all of this is relevant to everyone that has wellness on their agenda.