Diabetes needs a whole societal response – that includes employers

With the NHS in England launching a diabetes prevention programme and the World Health Organization warning of the “unrelenting” march of the condition globally, employers potentially have an important part to play in tackling this “lifestyle” condition.

In the past 20 years, the number of people living with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled, the charity Diabetes UK estimates, and more than five million Britons now live with the disease.

Many of these will be of working age, and therefore trying to manage their health condition alongside their employment and, at the same time, needing to be supported and accommodated by their employers.

The rise of diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes which is closely linked to diet and obesity, is, of course, not solely a problem for the UK.

The World Health Organization, in a major new report, has warned that the world is facing an “unrelenting march” of the disease, which now affects nearly one in 11 adults, with the numbers having quadrupled from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million two years ago.

But it is a problem that is putting the UK’s NHS under severe pressure. Diabetes UK, again, puts the cost of diabetes to the NHS as being more than £1.5m an hour, or 10% of the NHS budget for England and Wales. This equates to over £25,000 being spent on diabetes every minute, it calculates.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that the NHS England has launched a major new diabetes prevention programme “Healthier You: the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme”.

The programme will mean up to 100,000 people in England a year will be offered personalised help to reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes including education on healthy eating and lifestyle, help to lose weight and bespoke physical exercise programmes.

The initiative can also be seen in the context of the work the NHS is doing around implementing a“sugar tax” on high-sugar products sold in its cafes and vending machines and trying to make itself an exemplar employer when it comes to staff health and wellbeing.

And herein lies the important workplace health message in here for employers. As the BHWA highlighted earlier this month, employers, as much as the NHS, have a role to play in tackling the country’s obesity crisis. 

Whether it’s health promotion and education, healthier options in the canteen or vending machines, subsidised gyms, cycle-to-work schemes or simply encouraging employees to get up and out and about at lunchtime, take the stairs rather than the lift and develop a better, healthier work-life balance, employers can easily take the lead.

Indeed, in many respects employers have a captive, and often receptive, audience in their workforce. Of course, at the end of the day it’s going to be up to individuals to make (or reject) the healthier choices offered to them. But what employers can do is provide, and spark, the conversation and, from there, offer the tools and opportunities to make these changes.

Diabetes and obesity, it is clear, is whole societal problem that will need a whole societal response: education, local and national government, the NHS, communities and individuals themselves.

But it is a response within which employers can, and must, also play a proactive, and vital, part.


Author: Nic Paton, BHWA blogger and news team. Please send your feedback tonews@bhwa.org.uk

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