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Your Employees May Be on the Verge of Diabetes. But Most Don’t Know It.



Find out more about prediabetes and what your employees can do to prevent or delay it.

By Carol Zicker, RN, Certified Diabetes Educator, Horizon BCBSNJ​

More than one out of three American adults has prediabetes. With numbers this high, the odds are good that some of your employees are currently living with this possible precursor to diabetes. But they may not even know it.

Nine out of 10 adults with prediabetes are unaware that they may go on to develop Type 2 diabetes. This disease not only puts employees’ health at risk but drives up health care costs while decreasing the productivity of the people who are at the center of your business’s success.

The good news is that with lifestyle changes, diabetes can be prevented or delayed. But how will your employees know if they have prediabetes, and what can be done to slow or stop its progress? Find answers to these common questions and more so your co-workers can be prepared to achieve their best health.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are just starting to rise despite the body’s efforts to produce more insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Many people with prediabetes will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.

A fasting blood sugar level from 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) indicates prediabetes. If it's 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) or higher, you have diabetes. Diabetes is a serious disease that can cause heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, or the loss of feet or legs. And it’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. Learn more about diabetes.

What are the economic costs of diabetes? Diabetes does more than exact a physical toll; it places a gigantic economic burden on the health care system and employers. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), people diagnosed with diabetes have medical expenses approximately 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes. Or, viewed another way, one in seven health care dollars is spent in the U.S. treating diabetes and its complications.

Beyond medical expenses, diabetes impacts how effective employees can be at work. Increased absenteeism plus reduced productivity account for more than $30 billion in indirect costs attributable to diabetes, according to a 2017 ADA report. Learn more about the costs of diabetes.

Could someone have prediabetes and not know it? People can have prediabetes for years but have no clear symptoms. Risk factors for prediabetes include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent, brother or sister with Type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than 3 times a week
  • Having had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or given birth to a baby that weighed more than nine pounds

To find out if they have prediabetes, employees can take this assessment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and speak with their doctor.

If someone has prediabetes or known risks for diabetes, what can be done?

Here are three things people can do to help prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes:

1. Learn about healthy eating and how to manage your weight. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing five to seven percent of their starting weight. That’s like losing 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.

To maintain a healthy diet, people can start by reducing the number of calories they consume by eating smaller portions, choosing low-fat foods or drinking water instead of sweetened beverages like soda or juice.

2. Increase the level of physical activity. The NIH recommends getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. Your employees should talk to a doctor who can help them plan the right exercise regimen. In any case, it’s best to start slowly to make their health goals more manageable.

3. Go to a doctor regularly for check-ups and screenings. A person’s blood sugar levels can change over time. A doctor who is familiar with someone’s medical history will be able to suggest specific changes that can be made to prevent or delay Type 2 diabetes.

You know someone living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. What resources can you point them to?

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey offers a Diabetes Chronic Care Program, which can help members understand the importance of taking their medication, routine self-monitoring of their blood glucose levels, good nutrition, exercise and stress reduction to control their diabetes.

Horizon BCBSNJ’s nurse care managers will provide education and support to help people living with diabetes stay motivated to achieve their goals. Plus, we provide reminders for important monitoring tests, including dilated eye exams, foot examinations, A1C, LDL and microalbuminuria testing. This program is available to eligible Horizon BCBSNJ members of all ages diagnosed with diabetes.

To discover more ways to help your employees with diabetes or prediabetes make healthy lifestyle changes, talk with your Horizon BCBSNJ representative.