QIf you learned a new member of
your team suffered from diabetes would you know what to expect, or
how to help? Would you even be sure of exactly what the disease
Given diabetes is rapidly on the rise in this country, as
elsewhere, we asked Marguerite for information about the disease
and advice on how organisations and their managers can support
staff members who suffer from it.
Many of you will have heard about the 'diabetes epidemic' but
too often little is known of this invisible killer. Diabetes is
emerging fast as the biggest health catastrophe the world has ever
Diabetes in brief
Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot easily convert
food into energy. This is because the body either cannot produce
the hormone insulin or the insulin is not working effectively in
the body. The resulting high blood glucose levels eventually damage
both the large blood vessels of the heart, brain and legs and the
tiny capillaries supplying the eyes, kidneys and nerves. Typical
complications of diabetes are serious and need ongoing
What's driving the rise in diabetes? Lifestyle factors play a
large role: the increasingly fast pace of modern life means people
now consume more energy-dense convenience foods with ever fewer
opportunities to burn off those extra calories.
The main types of diabetes are described here.
In this country nineteen people are diagnosed with
diabetes every day and the incidence of diabetes across
all ethnic groups is forecast to double to half a million over the
next 15 years. Most new cases will come in Type 2
diabetes. Particularly hard hit are Maori, Pacific and Asian
peoples with twice the prevalence of Europeans. Despite these
alarming figures, little concerted effort has been put into
tackling the health issue that will affect more New Zealanders than
Comprehensive prevention programmes aren't easy, but the cost of
doing nothing is far greater in terms of lost productivity and the
tax dollars that will have to be spent managing diabetes' impact.
Over half of all heart attacks and strokes can be attributed to
diabetes as can over 60% of the cases of renal failure and
blindness in New Zealand.
By 2020, the cost of diabetes-related care will have risen to
14% of the public health budget in this country. That's more than
one billion dollars extra every year.
What does this mean for employers?
Much of the daily burden will fall squarely on the shoulders of
employers. Managers should expect marked increases in sick days,
either taken by the employee personally or taken to care for family
members with diabetes complications. There will also be many more
cases of reduced efficiency or suboptimal performance as the result
of impaired functioning from undiagnosed diabetes.
All this implies heavy penalties to companies in terms of lost
productivity and output.
What can employers do in general?
Against this depressing backdrop of illness, company Health and
Safety policies will be under much greater scrutiny. Employers
would be well-advised to raise their workforce's awareness of the
whole diabetes picture and to start:
- Offering choices for improved employee nutrition in the
cafeteria. Foods that are appropriate for people with diabetes
are normal and healthy for all staff. Vegetables, fruit, whole
grains, legumes, low fat dairy foods and lean meats are the most
- Developing opportunities for regular physical
activity. Activity helps glucose control and reduces blood
pressure. It keeps weight down as well as making those with
diabetes feel better.
How can employers support staff suffering from diabetes?
People with diabetes are well used to self-managing their own
condition and most days you will not notice any problem. However,
it is wise to ensure they:
- take their designated breaks on time
- not skip meals.
Dealing with a "Hypo"
It is possible a staff member may suffer a "hypo" - a
hypoglycaemic attack - that occurs when blood glucose falls below
the normal level.
There are several warning signs that a person with diabetes will
recognise as the onset of a hypo. They include feeling dizzy, faint
or sweating. However, some people lose the ability to recognise
these warnings. Your employee may then become moody, irritable or
irrational, confused, unable to concentrate and may start
Treatment is by giving some form of fast-acting sugar, like
glucose tablets or a few jelly beans, which raise the blood glucose
levels rapidly. This needs to be followed by a sandwich or meal to
ensure the level doesn't drop again.
If the symptoms are ignored, the blood glucose may continue to
fall so far that the brain is starved of glucose. The employee may
eventually lose consciousness. If this happens:
- Do not give anything by mouth if the person is
- Lay the person on his or her side and dial 111 for an
Is it easy to tell if someone has Type 2 diabetes?
Unfortunately, no. Frequently there are no symptoms. A recent
study found that, on average, people newly diagnosed with Type 2
diabetes have had it for 9-12 years. Half were already developing
complications by the time they were diagnosed. It is this unmanaged
diabetes which fosters the development of severe complications.
Where symptoms do show, constant unexplained thirst is one
symptom that requires further investigation. Other symptoms can
include blurred vision, unexplained tiredness, passing urine more
frequently, wounds that don't heal and recurring infections.
However, these symptoms often get misdiagnosed (i.e. more
frequent urination is attributed to advancing years) or can
indicate some other problem so it is always wise to have them
assessed by a doctor.
Remember that people of all ages can develop diabetes. With
rising levels of obesity, more and more young people are
contracting Type 2 diabetes - even children.
To learn more
Take advantage of opportunities for education and support from
your company GP or local diabetes society. Diabetes
NZ Auckland offers a simple Risk Assessment. You can encourage
staff to click on 'Take the Test' to check out their own
People who do take control of their diabetes can play their part
in society to the fullest extent, and they perform in every walk of
Marguerite Durling is the Assistant General
Manager for Diabetes NZ Auckland, which is the local
society for the greater Auckland region.
Diabetes NZ Auckland offer Prevention and Awareness programmes
in the workplace in addition to six-part "Healthy Living with
Diabetes" courses that will support people in managing diabetes
well. Phone Diabetes NZ Auckland on 09 623 2508 for information on
courses or visit their website to see the full range of
services they offer.
Do other members have experiences or ideas to share on this
topic? Please let us know through the feedback form below.