Job stress might be right up their with weight, smoking and lack of exercise as a high risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. Researchers from Tel Aviv University’s medical school tracked 677 working adults over three to five years. Roughly half of this group reported high stress on the job, and the high-stress group was 1.8 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, even when factoring in age, sex and obesity.
According to Samuel Melamed, one of the researchers, a workers ability to cope with job stress is also a significant factor.

“It is possible that these people are prone to diabetes because they can’t handle stress very well,” Melamed said. “Their coping resources may have been depleted not only due to job stress but also life stresses, such as stressful life events and daily hassles.”

Stress can disrupt the body’s ability to process glucose, especially in people whose genetics make them vulnerable, said Richard Surwit, chief of the Division of Medical Psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

This provides yet another indicator of the importance of Work/life balance and the preventive benefits of wellness and stress reduction programs in the workplace.
Diabetes: An epidemic in the making
Many health practitioners are alarmed at the spike in the prevalence of diabetes and see it as an emerging epidemic. According to a New York Times in depth-series on diabetes earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control puts the numbers of diabetics at 21 million, with twice that number as “pre-diabetic” meaning they are on a path to developing type 2 diabetes unless they take lifestyle and health steps to mitigate their risk.
Employers need to care about this. A 2004 study by UnumProvident found that the number of workers filing disability claims for Type 2 diabetes doubled between 2001 and 2003 (PDF). The costs to employers? As much as $33,495 per diabetic claimant, as well as increased disability duration.
The UnumProvident study offered the following recommendations for employers, all the more relevant in light of the recent Israeli research:
Employers can play an important role in helping diabetic employees through a number of intervention strategies:

  • worksite health promotion/disease prevention programs that focus on fitness, weight loss and diet, as well as diabetes self-management education (DSME) for employees who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides access to community resources for DSME
  • healthcare plans that incorporate disease management and case management for type 2 diabetes to help ensure high quality healthcare outcomes
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