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Can employers make a difference in diabetes?

Glaucometer for Measuring Blood SugarWhat happened when 45 Onondaga County employees with diabetes or pre-diabetes met weekly at work to learn about lifestyle changes that could help prevent or control diabetes?

Over the 12-week program, participants reduced their diabetes risk. They:

  • lost weight,

  • became more physically active,

  • experienced less emotional or uncontrolled eating,

  • decreased their fat intake,

  • reduced their waist circumference, and

  • recorded lower body mass indexes.

They also said they functioned better in their daily routines and, as they lost weight, reported greater job satisfaction.

Such a lifestyle change program “can be successfully implemented at the worksite and has the potential to significantly improve health,” Syracuse researchers wrote in the May/June issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

County workers were granted 30 minutes leave and used 30 minutes of personal time to attend the hour-long weekly meetings during the study, which ended in February 2010. The meeting curriculum was based on the National Institutes of Health‘s Diabetes Prevention Program, which evolved from a large national study that showed how helping people lose weight can help prevent diabetes.

The researchers wanted to see whether a diabetes prevention program in a workplace could have a similar impact, since the majority of adults spend most of their waking hours at work.

“The results were quite positive. The only negative was – and it‘s not surprising – that once the intervention stopped there was this gradual regain,” says Paula Trief, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Upstate. That happens in most weight loss intervention studies, she says. “You can help people make the changes to lose the weight, but the lasting change to keep it off is more of a challenge.”

Onondaga County Health Commissioner Cynthia Morrow, MD, who led the study with Trief and Ruth Weinstock, MD, professor of medicine at Upstate, says targeting diabetes is crucial since the disease dramatically increases ones risk of heart disease, stroke, lower extremity amputations, kidney failure and blindness.

The study revealed a nice side benefit for employers who recognize the importance of a healthy workforce.

“One of the interesting things about the study was that people who participated who were successful at losing weight were happier at work,” Morrow says. “We know that when our workforce feels cared for and valued that that has a positive impact.”

Read the study: from the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

Learn more: the Diabetes Prevention Plan.