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25 Jan 2022
by Dr Doug Wright

Diabetes: it’s been called an epidemic. Can workplace technology help prevent it?

The fact that disease poses a threat to businesses – as well as the people they rely on – is a point that hardly needs to be laboured right now.

 

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But this threat is far from confined to Covid-19, or any other communicable disease. Worldwide, 15 million people of working age die from a non-communicable illness each year, according to the World Health Organization. Diabetes is one such condition that has a major impact on employee absence and long term-health. Modern lifestyles are making more people prone to developing diabetes – but, like communicable disease, its incidence can be reduced if we make prevention a priority.

Why diabetes is on the rise

The idea of co-morbidity is key to understanding how diabetes can develop – as well as the complications which may accompany or follow it. The same behaviours and lifestyle factors that can cause heart disease or cancer may also lead to type 2 diabetes. A lack of physical activity, smoking, excessive alcohol and poor diet are major challenges, but it’s possible to do something about them. Of course, self-motivation plays a part in determining whether positive change will happen. But, as employers, we can help build an environment where this has a fighting chance to succeed.

How can employers help reduce the risks?

We’re not talking about a relentless campaign to convert your employees into gym bunnies overnight. There are ways to help them find the motivation to take simple measures, such as increasing a daily step count or keeping track of what they eat. Giving employees access to technology that encourages physical wellbeing is one way to do this.

Ever-evolving health tech, such as fitness apps, can harness peer power to engender healthy competition between individuals or working teams, as well as making it easier to track progress. And it’s getting easier to choose the right app, in a marketplace that is now much better regulated. Your workplace benefits provider should be able to supply access to – or at least signpost – apps which have been through a strict governance process to combine proven clinical effectiveness with useability.

Healthy diet choices: how the right tech can help

It’s not all about putting the steps in. Diet is a key consideration, especially when the object is to prevent or manage diabetes. This is another area where health apps can help, by encouraging goal-focused behaviour change to manage weight loss and promote a balanced diet. The idea is to reposition healthy eating as a lifestyle choice – and one that isn’t all about boring salads and deprivation.

Following a clinically developed low-carb programme can be especially beneficial to prevent or manage diabetes. Showing how this works, supported by recipes that support different lifestyles and preferences, can make this an accessible option. Some providers even offer consultations with qualified nutritionists.

Apps promoting behaviour change such as adopting a low-carbohydrate diet have been shown to be highly effective. The highest-rated app of this kind currently used by the NHS – the Diabetes Digital Media-developed Low Carb Program – is driving tangible results. Compared to standard care, it has delivered 7.4% greater weight reduction, with 54% of people who start and complete the programme able to reduce their medication.

Matching prevention with early intervention

But employee absence due to non-communicable illness will not cease overnight, however strong our preventive support may be. But when these absences do happen, early intervention is key and early and stepped care interventions get the best outcomes. The longer someone is off work, the greater the obstacles.

This is where effective group income protection can play its part. A good policy does far more than provide a financial safety net. It encompasses focused return-to-work support, including access to rehabilitation services. This support can be stepped up according to the needs of the person concerned. Often involving low-cost interventions for the first four to six weeks, ramping up in its intensity if absences last longer, it’s an individual-based approach founded on evidence and focused on outcomes.

At a time when health concerns are increasingly recognised as being everyone’s business, we all need to recognise the threats we face are multi-faceted and ongoing in nature. Offering the right kind of support to help counter the threat of conditions such as diabetes keeps people in the workforce. And, more than this, it improves employee morale and helps look after longer-term health and wellbeing.

Author is Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director, Aviva UK Health

This article is supplied by Aviva UK Health

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