Every 23 seconds someone in the US is diagnosed with diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 29 million Americans are diabetic, and 86 million more have prediabetes. The resulting impact on business is significant.
The Health Care Cost Institute found that, for adults covered by employer-sponsored insurance, the spending difference between people with and without diabetes averages more than $10,000 per capita. In addition to direct medical costs, diabetes causes $69 billion annually in indirect costs due to reduced productivity.
With employers bearing much of the cost for chronic disease, many are implementing workplace programs and policies to reduce health risk factors and lower direct costs, such as insurance premiums and workers’ compensation claims.
The CDC’s Workplace Health Program showed that in 2014, 73 percent of small companies and 98 percent of large companies offered at least one wellness program as part of their health benefits. Approaches range from lifestyle change to weight management and health promotion.
To counter costs from lifestyle diseases like diabetes, employers should aim for a mix of traditional programs, emerging methods and a supportive organizational environment. The right framework includes five effective, evidence-based ways for employers to promote workforce wellness and address diabetes-related costs:
1. Detect risk factors and disease early on
Type 2 diabetes develops slowly over months and years, so screening initiatives for early detection and treatment are essential.
A seven-item questionnaire from the CDC can be used as an initial screen for prediabetes risk, followed by blood glucose screening for further confirmation.
While the CDC questionnaire is a simple test to offer to all employees, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for abnormal blood glucose for the 70 percent of adults ages 40 to 70 who are overweight or obese.
Employers should utilize workplace health programs that provide tools to measure workforce health. Having this information – the actual risk factors among their staff – will help determine the overall need and type of programs to implement.
2. Prevent the progression of health risk
A workplace program that emphasizes modest weight loss, improved diet, stress management and physical activity can help employers reduce the incidence and impact of type 2 diabetes among employees.
There is strong evidence that the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed.
Large clinical trials, including the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), showed that a structured lifestyle change program can cut the risk of progression to type 2 diabetes by 60 percent among adults who were at very high risk.
The American Diabetes Association and the CDC recommend that people with prediabetes should be counseled on lifestyle changes through programs with goals similar to those of the DPP, and research indicates that these types of initiatives can be highly cost-effective.
3. Help employees take control of their health
Providing employees with evidence-based programs helps them engage more actively in their health, a key step both in preventing type 2 diabetes and in managing the disease.
According to the CDC, “effective behavioral interventions combine counseling on a healthful diet and physical activity and involve multiple contacts over extended periods.” Initiatives that pair guidance with personal goal-setting, weekly action plans and encouragement can support the adoption of healthy behaviors over time.
New digital tools are also emerging to extend the delivery and effectiveness of these programs.
With the proliferation of smartphones, mobile platforms now empower people to manage their diet, physical activity and stress wherever they go, enabling employers to support their workforce efficiently and at scale.