New approach can tackle diabetes at work

Comprehensive health promotion plan needed
By Randi Garcha
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/16/2011

With an aging and growing population, rising rates of overweight and obese individuals, sedentary lifestyles and 80 per cent of new Canadians coming from populations at high risk, the rising prevalence of diabetes in Canada is dramatic and alarming.

More than nine million Canadians live with diabetes or pre-diabetes. About 90 per cent of those living with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. Not only are the rates of diabetes growing rapidly, the disease is associated with serious complications such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputations and premature death.

Addressing diabetes in the workplace has never been more relevant. But a significant shift is needed — in government approach, private sector involvement and, most of all, widespread personal and societal change.

The economic impact of diabetes is $12.2 billion annually in Canada — a figure on track to reach $16.9 billion by 2020, according to a cost model by the Canadian Diabetes Association. This model has been rolled out in every province except Quebec to further understand the economic and human impacts of diabetes and support the development of focused and comprehensive action plans.

However, the models do not account for the six million Canadians living with pre-diabetes, one-half of whom will develop Type 2 diabetes and many of whom will experience diabetes-related complications even before a diagnosis. There is a need for targeted investments in improving access to diabetes health-care services, education, medications, devices and supplies and financial support.

Employers can take charge

Corporate decision-makers have the power to influence and affect enough change in the workforce to turn the tides against chronic diseases such as diabetes. By committing to a comprehensive workplace health promotion plan and building components of this plan into organizational goals and strategies, corporations can help halt the impending tsunami of diabetes and keep valued employees healthier, happier and more productive.

This approach relies on employers to create a supportive management culture and builds on employee initiative to take the lead in their own well-being. Thus, employee health is essentially managed in tandem with organizational health.

There is strong evidence to show that when health is promoted in the workplace, employees are more motivated and able to care for themselves by eating properly, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough exercise, sleep and recreation, managing stress effectively and using medications appropriately.

In other words, healthy workplaces have a significantly positive impact on lifestyle factors that place employees at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as a variety of problems related to the functioning of the immune system.

Risk reduction through improved personal health practices translates into lower health-related costs to corporations and superior productivity. Specifically, outcomes can include:

• reduced benefit costs

• improved employee retention

• improved absenteeism rates

• increased productivity

• improved corporate profile.

Elements that can be included in a comprehensive workplace health promotion plan are:

• encouraging healthy living

• promoting empowerment, teamwork and collaboration

• providing a healthy work environment

• creating work-life balance

• educating employees and providing resources on chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Randi Garcha is manager of national media relations and external communications at the Canadian Diabetes Association in Toronto. She can be reached at (416) 408-7071 or

Defining the disease

3 types of diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes and they are all serious.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the pancreas no longer produces any insulin or produces very little insulin. Insulin is a hormone that ensures body energy needs are met. Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or adolescence and affects up to 10 per cent of people with diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to meet the body’s needs or the body is unable to respond properly to the actions of insulin (insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life and affects about 90 per cent of people with diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is initially diagnosed or first develops during pregnancy. Blood glucose levels usually return to normal following delivery. Both mother and child are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

The signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of diabetes include the following:

• unusual thirst

• frequent urination

• weight change (gain or loss)

• extreme fatigue or lack of energy

• blurred vision

• frequent or recurring infections

• cuts and bruises that are slow to heal

• tingling or numbness in the hands or feet

• trouble having an erection.

High-risk groups

You are at risk of developing diabetes if you:

• are a member of a high-risk group (Aboriginal, Hispanic, Asian, South Asian or of African descent)

• are overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your middle)

• are aged 40 or over

• have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes

• give birth to a baby who weighs more than 4 kg (9 lb)

• have gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

• have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose

• have health complications that are associated with diabetes

• have high blood pressure

• have high cholesterol or other fats in the blood

• have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome

• have acanthosis nigricans (darkened patches of skin)

• have schizophrenia.

Source: Canadian Diabetes Association

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