Monday, November 14th marked World Diabetes Day. Diabetes is a disease that continues to grow at alarming rates, according to the International Diabetes Federation, which has just published the fifth edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas. In 2011, 366 million people worldwide are affected by the disease and if urgent action is not taken, this number will increase to 552 million by 2030. It currently affects over 20 million people in the United States, including children and adults.1 As many as one-third of all U.S. adults could suffer from diabetes by 2050. In a short period of time, diabetes and its resulting complications have become a serious health problem in North America, as well as a major economic issue for companies witnessing increases in their insurance costs.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that is caused by the body’s inability to use the sugar that one consumes as energy. Normally, when a person eats sugar it gets taken up by the intestinal tract into the blood. This stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone that helps cells located everywhere in the body take in the sugar. In a healthy person, no matter how much energy they’ve taken in (food) or how much they’ve expended (exercise), their blood sugar level is maintained within very narrow limits, thanks to insulin. The symptoms of diabetes include increased frequency and volume of urination, unusual thirst and/or hunger, unexplained weight loss, extreme fatigue, frequent infections, blurred vision, slow healing, and numbness in hands/feet.3
The risks of diabetes
The risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are important and are seen as preventable in many (but not all) cases. They include: having a family history of diabetes, being overweight, lacking in regular exercise, low HDL or high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and women who have had diabetes during pregnancy. While having a family history of diabetes does put one at a higher risk for developing the disease, it does not mean that contracting it is inevitable. The best way to prevent diabetes is to maintain a weight that is in healthy range for your age, gender and height, have a balanced diet avoiding excessive amounts of sugar, and exercise regularly. This will help you work with your body to maintain a healthy metabolism of sugars and other nutrients.
Faced with the threat of diabetes, it is imperative for companies and executives to develop solutions that will improve employee health and thereby lower insurance costs. According to physicians, creating lasting changes in one’s lifestyle is still the best way to prevent disease. Changes can easily be integrated into any company by taking several actions:
• Conduct a diagnostic – complete a comprehensive diagnostic of the health of employees, with questions related to diabetes. This first step will allow you to implement a diabetes prevention program that is tailored to the needs of employees.
• Monitor the food supply – studies on the prevention of diabetes have shown that high risk middle-aged adults can protect themselves from type 2-diabetes by improving their diet. You can offer nutritional education programs several times a year, improve the quality of the food supplied in the workplace and minimize the supply of unhealthy treats in the vending machine.
• Promote exercise – diabetes can be avoided by doing exercise and losing weight. Many exercise programs are created for businesses; why not offer yoga classes, a walking program or team sports to your employees?
Bear in mind, current studies have shown that making positive lifestyle changes is significantly more effective than taking medication for people with a high risk of contracting diabetes. By properly addressing and taking steps to control the diabetes crisis, we can make premiums more affordable and create long-term, sustainable efforts to reduce diabetes in our society.
Fabien Loszach is a visionary sociologist and co-owner of Loszach Report. www.loszach.com
1. Kumar V, Abbas, A, Fausto, N, Aster, J (ed). Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 8 ed. Philedelphia: Saunders; Elsevier; 2009. 1450 p.
2. Berne R, Levy M (ed). Physiology. 6 ed. St. Louis: Mosby; Harcourt Health Sciences Company 2008. 864 p.
3. Living with Diabetes <www.diabetes.org> Accessed 2009 December 11. American Diabetes Association, 2009.