When it comes to social and economic impact of the diabetes epidemic, there isnt much to feel good about as of 2012, 29.1 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and it accounts for $245 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity per year.
On an individual level, diabetes can be painful, debilitating, and increasingly exhausting to manage due to an onslaught of treatment options. Not only can it eventually lead to kidney, nerve, and liver damage, but the American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Tragically, but not surprisingly, people with type 2 diabetes tend to die sooner; the expected life span of a 50-year-old with the illness is about 8.5 years shorter than someone without it.
Thats a lot of bad news.
And thats just the tip of the iceberg: prediabetes, the preliminary stage of type 2 diabetes, has become an increasing threat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 37% of adult Americans (86 million) over the age of 20 have prediabetes. Characterized by high blood glucose levels, prediabetes is largely asymptomatic, which is a major reason why nearly 90% of individuals who have it are unaware.
Without intervention, approximately 15-30% of people with prediabetes will progress to type 2 diabetes within 5 years, and up to 70% within their lifetime. But, despite these looming numbers, prediabetes is as much of an opportunity as it is a problem, because once an employee knows they have it, they can do something about it.
The bright side: helping employees determine their risk for prediabetes is easy. A short risk screening quiz from the CDC identifies risk factors including weight, age, and family history. Anyone at high risk is prompted to follow up. Simply emailing your employees a link to this quiz can go a long way toward battling diabetes.
Addressing prediabetes isnt quite so easy, but thanks to the landmark Diabetes Prevention Program clinical trial, we now know that its possible. Interventions that enable healthy behavior changes that lead to moderate weight loss and increased activity have a 58% success rate in helping people with prediabetes avoid advancing to type 2 diabetes.
By sponsoring programs that combat prediabetes with the right mix of information, authoritative guidance, and social support, companies can have a direct, positive impact on employee health. Theyll also positively impact their bottom line an employee with type 2 diabetes burdens a company with approximately twice the medical costs as one without.
Other side effects of diabetes prevention go beyond the obvious. Research shows that individuals who maintain a significant weight loss experience higher energy levels, more physical mobility, improved mood, and greater self-confidence. A happier, more gung-ho workforce? Thats good news for everybody from your customers to your CEO.
Dr. Cameron Sepah is assistant clinical professor at UCSF Medical School and medical director at Omada Health, a health technology company.
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