Type 2 diabetes is a common condition that causes the level of sugar, or glucose, in the blood to become too high. About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. There are a range of symptoms, including more frequent urination, excessive fatigue and wounds taking longer to heal.
Recent statistics indicate that 3.5 million people in the UK have diabetes, while an estimated half a million additional people have the condition but are unaware that they have it. The number of people with diabetes in the UK is expected to rise to more than 5 million by 2025.
Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, drinking and smoking can play a significant role in developing Type 2 diabetes and, given that we spend so much of our lives at work, it is important to follow healthy workplace behaviours in order to reduce the risks.
“recent statistics indicate that 3.5 million people in the UK have diabetes”
To mark Diabetes Week (10-16 June), Stephen Thomas, Health and Safety Business Partner at IOSH, provides some simple, low-cost tips for promoting healthy behaviours as part of a workplace health and wellbeing strategy:
- Healthy eating – Meals that are high in fat and lacking in fibre can increase the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes so developing healthy eating habits, both in and out of work, can have a big impact. Sometimes it’s just a matter of education and there are plenty of free information resources available online such as the NHS Change4Life family healthy eating campaign.
- Exercise – Physical activity can help to reduce weight and blood glucose levels and can also improve other health aspects such as our cholesterol, blood pressure and quality of sleep. Some workplaces have introduced initiatives to tackle sedentary work and promote physical fitness among workers such as free exercise classes and even providing health and fitness trackers for staff. However, simple changes such as walking meetings and encouraging workers to walk to colleagues’ desks for a conversation rather than sending emails can be beneficial.
- Smoking is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes as well as other conditions such as heart disease and cancer. Make it easier for workers to quit smoking by promoting local stop smoking support services and allowing them to attend smoking cessation sessions during work time without loss of pay.
- Get checked – Anyone who has the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes should visit their GP. The NHS offer a free Health Check for 40-74 year olds and routine wellness checks may also be provided as part of a workplace health strategy. There are also some useful resources available online – Diabetes UK has a free risk assessment developed with the University of Leicester and University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust.
- Support your workers – It is important employers are aware that people living with diabetes may also have to deal with complications as a result of their condition, which could potentially affect their ability to work. People who have diabetes and related complications may require reasonable adjustments in the workplace such as flexible working hours, modified equipment or a private space to take their insulin injections or do blood tests.
The charity Diabetes UK also runs local support groups, which can help with managing diabetes on a daily basis, diet, exercise or dealing with emotional problems, such as depression. They offer a place to talk and find out how others live with the condition.
Sophie O’Connell, a Research Associate at the Leicester Diabetes Centre and project manager on the global Cities Changing Diabetes initiative, said: “Physical inactivity and obesity are of the most important modifiable risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. With many of us working longer hours and spending more hours sat at a computer, workers are not getting enough physical activity in their lifestyles to benefit help. Couple this will the perception of less than to prepare fresh and healthy meals, many of us are gaining more and more weight.
“As part of Cities Changing Diabetes in Leicester, we are trying to raise awareness of Type 2 diabetes, the symptoms and the risk factors. You can complete a simple questionnaire to assess your diabetes risk score. This can be accessed https://riskscore.diabetes.org.uk/start. If you are concerned about your risk, it is advised to visit a GP, but some symptoms you can look out for are, sudden weight loss or gain, excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and irritability, blurred vision and nausea.
“Workers are recommended to try and live a healthy lifestyle, by getting in some physical activity during their day, regularly drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and reducing the highly processed foods. Researchers at the Leicester Diabetes Centre have developed an occupational toolkit to help workplaces reduce the sitting time and increase their movement throughout their workday. Visit www.smartworkandlife.co.uk and sign up to this free resource to access tools and tips to help you sit less and move more throughout your workday.”
- More information about Type 2 diabetes in the workplace is available here: https://exclusive.iosh.com/resources-and-research/our-resources/occupational-health-toolkit/diabetes/