Chronic Disease Spotlight: Diabetes

Diabetes can lead to severe symptoms, limb amputation, and even death. Learn more about the condition and how to help your employees prevent diabetes

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes occurs when an individual’s blood sugar (or glucose) is too high. Glucose is one of our primary energy sources, and we receive it through the foods and drinks we consume.

When the pancreas detects more glucose in our bloodstream, it produces insulin, which helps our cells absorb glucose. However, when an individual’s body doesn’t make enough insulin or struggles to utilize the insulin it does produce, glucose stays in the blood, potentially leading to diabetes over time. 

There are several types of diabetes, but the most common are:

Type 1 Diabetes

Individuals with this form of diabetes can’t make insulin, so they must take insulin daily to stay alive. In most instances, people with Type 1 diabetes first get diagnosed as children or young adults, but the disease can appear at any age.

Type 2 Diabetes

Individuals with this form of the disease are unable to make or process insulin adequately. This is the most common form of the disease and can appear at any age, although it most commonly presents in middle-aged people and seniors. Risk factors include age, race, family history, obesity, lack of exercise, and health problems like high blood pressure.

Gestational Diabetes

Some pregnant women develop this form of the disease, but in most cases, gestational diabetes gradually disappears after the child is born. Unfortunately, women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

What Health Problems Are Associated with Diabetes?

This list will vary based on the type of diabetes an individual has and the severity of their condition. In general, however, high blood sugar levels can lead to the following health complications:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye problems
  • Dental disease 
  • Foot problems that potentially require amputation 

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

If an individual’s primary care physician determines that a person’s health profile, lifestyle, or family history could put them at risk for diabetes, there are several tests they can use to arrive at an accurate diagnosis:

Fasting Plasma Glucose Test

This test measures blood glucose after the patient has fasted for at least eight hours. It can detect diabetes and prediabetes.

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test 

This test measures blood glucose after the patient has fasted for at least eight hours, drank a beverage containing glucose, and then waited two more hours. This test can also detect diabetes and prediabetes.

Random Plasma Glucose Test 

This diagnostic test involves a physician checking glucose levels regardless of when a patient last ate or drank. The doctor will then couple the results of this test with any symptoms the person might be exhibiting to determine a diabetes diagnosis (although not a prediabetes diagnosis). 

What Are the Effects of Diabetes on the Economy and the Healthcare System?

The costs associated with the diabetes epidemic in the United States are shocking. In 2012, the total cost related to treating diabetes was $245 billion. Approximately $176 billion of that was spent on direct medical costs. The remaining $69 billion was spent on indirect costs, such as lost time at work and disability payments.

In addition, the CDC reports that people with diabetes spend about 2.3 times more per year on medical care than people who don’t have the disease ($13,700 versus $6,000).  

Diabetes and the Workplace

The indirect costs of diabetes weigh heavily on the American workforce as well. For instance, diabetes-related disability costs alone are nearly $22 billion annually. Reduced productivity while at work costs employers almost $21 billion. Another $18.5 billion is lost in production capacity because of early deaths related to diabetes. And diabetes-related absenteeism creates an additional $5 billion in losses every year.

About 12% of all employees have diabetes, but 3.4% remain undiagnosed. Perhaps more alarming is that an estimated 37% of employees have prediabetes, which can accelerate quickly if significant lifestyle changes aren’t made quickly.

Together, this group — which consists of almost 50% of the American workforce — cost a typical company with more than 1,000 employees about $4 million per year in insurance costs.

Do Your Part to Keep Your Employees Healthy and Happy

Diabetes can be a severe and debilitating disease. It is one of the leading causes of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure. However, type 2 diabetes can be prevented. As an employer, you can make a direct, positive impact on your employees’ lives, which will also affect the strength of your business.

Your employees are counting on you to lead the charge toward a healthier work environment. Follow this link to download our free whitepaper that will teach you how to develop an employee wellness program in just a few simple steps.

From there, encourage and incentivize your staff to join. When done correctly, wellness programs can help participants become more active, lose more weight, and feel more confident in the workplace.

You can also help employees quit smoking ─ a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes ─ by creating a similar program that is based on nicotine suppression and cessation. Such a program can be more difficult to monitor than a weight loss or body mass index challenge, but by trusting your employees, you can give them the edge they need to succeed. Quitting smoking also helps prevent other severe afflictions like lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema. 

Lastly, do your part to reduce employee stress levels. Stress is a common risk factor for numerous health conditions, including diabetes. You can reduce your employees’ stress levels by establishing clear workplace behavior guidelines, creating and promoting a positive work environment, and offering confidential programs to assist with mental health issues.

You don’t need to invade your employees’ personal space or mental well-being to accomplish these initiatives. Instead, make sure everyone is comfortable, and be sure to speak with your staff on a regular basis to gauge their satisfaction at work and their overall stress level.

Diabetes and the workplace: Focus on wellness and safety. (2016, December 29). CDC. Retrieved from