According to a report from the CDC (National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020), in 2020 there were a total of 34.3 million (1 in 10) people in the United States with diabetes and 7.3 million more who are undiagnosed. This is only the tip of the iceberg, since another 88 million people (1 in 3) have prediabetes. Many of these individuals are unaware of their elevated blood sugar levels, which means they aren’t focusing on changing their habits that cause high blood sugar in the first place.
While these numbers are alarming, they shouldn’t come as a surprise. If we think about the way most people in the United States go about their day-to-day lives, it’s easy to make the connection between risk factors for diabetes and the rising numbers. People are more sedentary and more stressed, which are direct links to weight gain, overeating, craving more simple carbohydrates and convenience foods, and at higher risk of developing high cholesterol and hypertension because of these unhealthy habits.
For an employer, this also means a rising financial burden. In addition to the $327 billion cost of diagnosed diabetics in the United States (American Diabetes Association: Statistics About Diabetes) related to disease management, a 2017 article from Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) (Rising Diabetes Rates Are Costly for Employers) reports an additional $20 billion cost for missed days of work related to diabetes-related issues. Take away message – costs are rising, and the trajectory isn’t looking any better. People already diagnosed with diabetes are getting sicker without any intervention and more people are developing issues with their blood sugar due to unhealthy habits.
The workplace has a unique opportunity to engage employees in better health management. Through awareness, education, and practice, there is a way to show employees how to reduce their risk of diabetes for prevention and provide resources for better diabetes management in those who are already diagnosed. Here are three examples of how to address the growing challenge of prediabetes and diabetes in the workplace:
Preventative Care Promotion
At the very least, your employees need to complete an annual physical. This once-a-year exam is a sure way to provide employees with awareness about what’s going on internally. A full lipid panel, blood panel, and A1c or glucose check should all be included. Personally, I like to call this the “full systems check” since most physicians examine their patient head to toe and make sure everything is in check. If they catch something that looks off, further discussion and referrals can be provided if needed.
This is especially crucial when it comes to detecting prediabetes and managing diabetes. Catching an out-of-range glucose or A1c before it becomes full blown diabetes can save the individual from having to deal with a difficult condition and can save an employer from big claims.
One company EHG works with had 14 individuals who moved out of a prediabetic glucose level to a healthy glucose range within a year, which means these employees were prevented from developing type 2 diabetes and saved the company an estimated $134,000 per year!
For diabetics, this is even more true. Keeping an A1c within a healthy range means less chance of emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and complications that arise from uncontrolled diabetes and avoiding high claims costs. On top of a physical, it is recommended that diabetics complete additional preventative care exams to minimize complications. Healthy management of this condition means preventative care and being an advocate for their own health is of the upmost importance. Understanding health insurance, asking questions, maintaining medical records, and not being afraid to ask for a second opinion are also important pieces to a diabetic managing their condition.
With this in mind, it is critical as an employer to promote preventative care, educate employees on what is covered by their insurance, and make sure you communicate your support of their health by allowing for employees to take time off to attend these exams. Something like a “health day” where you offer a full or half-day off for employees to schedule preventative care exams, a physical, or other wellness-related appointments can be a great step in the right direction.
Create a Culture of Wellness and Community
As previously mentioned, the “sitting disease” (THE FACTS: The human body is designed to move), high stress levels, and a world that doesn’t promote the healthiest of habits makes the increasing level of prediabetes and diabetes very challenging to tackle.
Luckily, you as an employer don’t have to take all of it head on! The office is a great place to start making changes. Look around and identify areas where improvements can be made. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Order standing desks for those who work in the office, so they have an alternative to sitting.
- Start a walking group at breaks or lunch to get employees active during the day.
- Try out a stretching break. Encourage employees to lightly stretch before starting work or at increments throughout the day, which can make a big difference in the body and the mind.
- Offer healthy options at lunch meetings. Try to provide fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates. Think about swapping dessert for fresh fruit!
People spend a large portion of their week at work, so you have the opportunity to impact someone’s views on their health and the importance of taking care of themselves by creating a culture of wellness.
Health Coaching and Behavioral Change
Diabetes management often requires an individualized approach. Everyone’s body and blood sugar respond differently to medication, exercise, and nutrition which means that there is no “one size fits all” plan for diabetics. Enter health coaching. Health coaches create deep relationships with people. Building rapport allows coaches to work closely with diabetics to help them become more aware of their current habits, educate on pertinent information for diabetes management, provide accountability and problem-solving while navigating new habits, and sets goals to help an individual progress.
On top of all this, a health coach is a cheerleader. Supporting someone on their journey and celebrating all the small wins along the way is key to change. It builds confidence and empowers people to continue on their path.
And the data supports this:
One client EHG currently works with has health coaching, culture building, and an additional Diabetes Coaching Program in place. Over the past year, they were able to reduce their diabetic level from 12% to 8%.
The percentage of people with an A1c >/= 8 decreased from 4.3% to 2.9%, which is 8 fewer participants with an uncontrolled A1c. And this isn’t the only client who has a similar wellness program in place and has seen reductions in employees measuring in the diabetic range. Five additional clients with nearly 100% compliance with coaching and high participation and engagement in the wellness program activities have all been positively impacted specifically related to their diabetic population.
Still looking for a reason to get started? November is National Diabetes Awareness month, so there’s no time like the present to help your employees (and yourself) with awareness and education on diabetes!
Want help creating a culture of wellness or interested in health coaching? Use our form to tell us about your organization, and we’ll call you back to schedule an appointment.