Why Workplace Wellness Initiatives Should Include Diabetes Prevention

Posted December 7, 2016

Based on a growing body of research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that type 2 diabetes can be prevented and prediabetes can be reversed with CDC-recognized diabetes prevention programs. This is important news for employers because incorporating proven diabetes prevention programs into company wellness initiatives could potentially be a cost-saving strategy, in addition to improving workers’ health.

“Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S.,” a study commissioned by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), concludes the financial burden, health resources used and lost productivity associated with diabetes are staggering.

The economic toll of diabetes and prediabetes is now about $322 billion a year, including direct medical costs and loss of productivity. Indirect costs, according to the ADA, include increased absenteeism ($5 billion), reduced productivity of employees on the job ($20.8 billion), lost productive capacity due to early death of employees ($18.5 billion) and diabetes-related disability ($21.6 billion).

Almost 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, marked by high levels of blood glucose, and another 86 million Americans are on their way to developing the disease. Some Americans have type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin, the hormone that allows the body to use sugar for energy. Usually diagnosed in childhood and believed to be related to genetic and possibly autoimmune factors, this form of diabetes requires insulin for life.

However, type 2 diabetes is the cause of the current U.S. diabetes epidemic, according to the CDC. In fact, at least 90% of Americans with diabetes have type 2, in which the pancreas produces insulin but cells are resistant to it. Linked to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, type 2 was once thought of as only a disease of middle age, but is now increasingly found in younger people.

The condition is typically preceded by the condition known as prediabetes, marked by blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough for a full-blown diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. The odds are, most organizations in the U.S. have employees that fall into the prediabetes category — 1 in 3 Americans do, according to the CDC. And there’s a 15% to 30% risk those with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes in fewer than 5 years.

The good news is prediabetes can be reversed and type 2 diabetes can often be prevented. The CDC developed a national diabetes prevention program (DPP) centered around lifestyle changes that can bring blood glucose levels back into the normal range and prevent progression to diabetes. The DPP approach involves helping participants make healthy lifestyle changes such as eating better, learning strategies to cope with stress, and getting regular physical activity.

To document whether the DPP initiatives actually prevent diabetes, Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and the CDC analyzed data from 44 published studies involving almost 9,000 adults enrolled in diabetes prevention programs across the U.S. in community centers and medical clinics, and through online media. Each DPP program studied was CDC-approved, using a curriculum designed to help people make healthy lifestyle changes that last. Trained lifestyle health coaches facilitated each DPP.

The analysis of the programs showed that after 1 year, most participants not only lost weight but they also had lower and healthier blood glucose measurements. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved, too. In all, risk factors for heart disease and stroke, as well as type 2 diabetes, were significantly reduced.

“There are a number of studies that have shown that weight loss is achievable through diabetes prevention programs,” said Mohammed K. Ali, MD, associate professor of Global Health at Emory. “Our study goes further by estimating the aggregate metabolic changes that can be achieved.”

The CDC offers information on how to start or sustain a diabetes prevention program. The national registry of recognized diabetes prevention programs provides contact information for all CDC-recognized organizations that deliver evidence-based type 2 diabetes prevention programs across the U.S. — Sherry Baker