Employers are helping their workers prevent and treat diabetes by tapping the free resources of the American Diabetes Association’s “Stop Diabetes @ Work” initiative. The program enables employers to make the workplace an important front in the fight against the diabetes epidemic.
Peter Ruccione, director of corporate development at the association’s New Jersey chapter in Bridgewater, said employers can create a company-branded portal where workers can turn for practical advice on diet, with menus and recipes; exercise ideas, like creating a walking club at work; and information about the warning signs of the disease, which often goes undiagnosed.
“This is very practical information people can use in their private lives, and the hope is that the seeds can be planted at the workplace, positive messages can be reinforced at the workplace and people will adopt good behaviors at home,” Ruccione said.
Employers can get started at www.diabetes.org/atwork.
The New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. is among the employers using the “Stop Diabetes @ Work” resources.
Bernadette Roman, a registered nurse and supervisor of the NJMWellnessCenter, said the company this year started a voluntary program to reduce chronic diseases among the company’s 2,500 employees, with a focus on hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.
“The diabetes association has been very generous in providing us with materials,” Roman said. NJM has put the “Stop Diabetes @ Work” icon on the online NJM employee portal. Printed materials from the association are available at the wellness center kiosks and the cafeterias at NJM’s offices in West Trenton, Parsippany and Hammonton. “We have all types of information about stopping diabetes and pamphlets on healthy diets and exercise,” Roman said.
The evidence points to the value of getting individuals to take charge of their health, Roman said: “It has been pretty much proven in the literature that lifestyle changes can make a huge difference” in reversing the symptoms of chronic disease.
NJM encouraged employees to participate in voluntary biometric screenings by offering a $100 incentive, and clinicians from an outside health and wellness company came on-site to screen NJM employees. Roman said 41 percent participated and, while she would have liked everyone to take part, “in most wellness initiatives, if the company reaches 35 to 40 percent, it’s considered successful.”
Diabetics have increased risk of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and blindness, and the disease is a major factor in the rising U.S. health care spending. Citing data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the association estimates that for a company with 1,000 employees, 100 have diabetes and cost the company $2.7 million a year in medical claims.
David Knowlton, chief executive of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said that while improving the health of the workforce can lead to lower costs, “The real issue is to have a productive and healthy workforce; that is why (employers) care about health.”
He said the institute is preparing to launch a workplace wellness campaign to guide employers to resources they can tap, and to disseminate best practices that employers are using successfully.
“Employers are committed to wellness and their prime objective is a healthy workforce; the problem is that they don’t have lot of resources and time to put to it,” Knowlton said.
The workplace is a good place to work on health issues because “It is where the people are” for most of their waking hours, Knowlton said. “It is a good place to approach you and give you resources.”
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