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How To Prevent Type 2 Diabetes at Work

Type 2 diabetes at work

A combination of lots of stress at work and not much social support can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, according to a new study, even among workers who seem to be healthy. This finding from Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Management could prompt you to ask, “What is there about the workplace that could lead to type 2 diabetes?”

Could your job eventually cause type 2 diabetes?

The results of this new study indicate that your workplace environment could have a significant impact on the chances you will develop type 2 diabetes. Information gathered over a 3.5-year period indicated that:

  • Both men and women employees who had a great deal of social support had a 22 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than did people who did not enjoy such relationships.
  • Individuals who said they were either over- or underworked were 18 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

These findings suggest balance in the workplace is an important factor when it comes to development of type 2 diabetes: balance both in terms of a person’s workload and in the amount of support he or she gets from management and coworkers. A lack of such balance also can fuel higher medical insurance and treatment costs as well as the number of days employees take off.

How the study worked
A total of 5,843 adults who visited a health center to undergo a routine physical examination sponsored by their employer were evaluated. None of the participants showed signs of diabetes at the initial visit.

All the study participants were examined and questioned and followed for 41 months. During that time, 182 adults developed diabetes, and the results were evaluated in relation to workplace conditions (e.g., how the workers perceived work load, their control over pace of work, and job objectives).

According to Dr. Sharon Toker, who headed the study, these findings indicate that the changing face of the work environment and high stress levels are taking a toll on employees, and an association with type 2 diabetes appears to be one of those effects. This study is interesting in light of a previous report in which scientists discovered how a protein has a significant role in the relationship between stress and diabetes at a cellular level.

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In that study, conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that a molecule called thioredoxin-interacting protein (TXNIP) is involved with the inflammatory process that can cause beta cells (which produce insulin) to die. The study’s senior author, Feroz Papa, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UCSF, stated that TXNIP “takes stress and makes it worse.”

What should employers do to reduce workplace stress?
Dr. Toker suggested employers make efforts to reduce stress in the workplace and promote social support by improving communication among staff, recognizing good employee performance, and finding ways to achieve workload balance. Employers should find ways to boost employee morale, such as offering employees a few hours per month to volunteer for a cause that appeals to them.

Employers also can elicit suggestions and creative solutions from workers and make them feel they are part of a team effort. For example, managers should routinely hold short meetings with employees to review progress, address questions, and brainstorm on novel ways to tackle problems.

An additional simple thing employees can do, according to a recent study, is take a break. If you have diabetes and your job involves sitting a lot, taking a walking break every 20 minutes can help reduce glucose levels and insulin responses, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.

Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic, and it’s critical to stem the tide of this disease. This latest study highlights the importance of finding ways to prevent type 2 diabetes at work, especially since adults spend a significant amount of time at the workplace.

Dunstan DW et al. Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses. Diabetes Care 2012 Feb 28. DOI:10.2337/dc11-1931
Toker S et al. Work characteristics as predictors of diabetes incidence among apparently healthy employees. Journal of Occupational Health Physiology 2012 Jul; 17(3): 259-67

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