Over the next 7 years we could see up to five million people living with diabetes in the UK. Around 90% of those people will have Type 2 diabetes, a largely preventable form of the disease.
Recent figures from the NHS’s Quality and Outcomes Framework show that the number of people diagnosed with diabetes, 3.7 million, has almost doubled since 1998. A further 1 million people are estimated to be living with the illness as yet undiagnosed.
Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes is the fastest growing health crisis of our time and the fact that diagnoses have doubled in just 20 years should give all of us serious pause for thought.”
What is diabetes?
The body uses insulin to turn glucose into energy. Individuals suffering from diabetes either produce too little insulin, or the insulin they produce isn’t effective enough to carry out this process. The result is high blood-sugar levels which, if not properly managed, can cause physical complications.
The most common problem for working-age diabetics is usually eye problems, such as cataracts and glaucoma, resulting in loss of vision or blindness. Around 80% of people with diabetes die from heart disease and there is an increased chance of stroke. Kidney damage is common, and in extreme cases, the disease can result in foot amputation due to blood vessel and nerve damage.
What to look out for
The symptoms for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are very similar.
- Increased thirst
- Low energy levels
- More regular urination, particularly during the night
- Unexplained weight loss
- Slow healing of cuts
- Regular attacks of thrush
A very recent study has found that there may in fact be five types of diabetes. Although this study provides more targeted information on the disease, it does not influence current thinking regarding the causes or treatment at this point.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for around 10% of the UK’s diabetic cases. It is an autoimmune condition and generally runs in families. It usually develops in childhood and requires lifelong treatment in the form of insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and is generally diagnosed in older people. These causes mean that, unlike Type 1, it is quite often preventable with relatively minor lifestyle changes.
Diabetes in the workplace
People living with diabetes are usually perfectly capable of managing their disease without it impacting on their work. Businesses can confidently employ diabetics without concern. In fact the 2010 Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate in cases where an individual’s diabetes qualifies as a disability.
Individuals are not required to disclose their diabetes nor are employers allowed to request such disclosure. However, forward thinking organisations can take a proactive approach to support diabetic employees and work towards combatting the causes of Type 2 diabetes.
Supporting diabetic employees in the workplace
If a diabetic’s blood-sugar levels drop too low they can lose consciousness and fall into a coma. In some cases, the precursor to this can be mistaken for drunkenness. Many diabetics will wear a medical bracelet or necklace to alert others to their illness. If a member of staff is diabetic, a quick risk assessment and a little forward-thinking can ensure that you are able to support them in managing their illness. Consider the following issues:
- How manageable is the individual’s condition?
- Can the employee have regular meal breaks?
- How physically demanding is the role – as this will impact blood-sugar levels.
- If the employee experiences a hypoglycaemic episode whilst at work, what impact could that have on the workplace? For example, do they operate machinery? Work at heights? Etc.
- How safe will they be working alone or at night?
- Who else needs to know?
Providing adequate breaks to eat and medicate is the key to helping a diabetic maintain a healthy blood-sugar level. Ensuring that those who may need to offer support are aware of the situation is also advisable.
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
Promoting a positive and proactive health and wellbeing programme in the work place is by far the best way businesses can work to combat the rise of Type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:
- Get active – Enabling staff to get at least 30 minutes of exercise during the working day is a sure-fire way to keep fit. Encourage employees to ride bikes to work, set up a lunchtime mile group or talk to the local gym about group discounts for your employees.
- Eat smart – Offer healthy snacks and meal options. Snack machines can now offer fruit or slow-release energy bars instead of crisps and chocolate. Switch the fizzy drinks for water and herbal teas. Provide balanced lunch options and time to eat them.
- Educate – Unhealthy lifestyles can be down to a lack of knowledge. Educate your employees in how they can take responsibility for keeping themselves happy and healthy.
- Support – When people are happy and stress levels are low they take better care of themselves. They also work better and take less time off sick. Offer your teams the support they need to stay on top of things.
We have covered many of these issues in the past, so browse through our previous blogs for inspiration on how to promote a healthy workplace. It really does pay off.