Prediabetes happens when a person’s blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
 
According to the Department of Public Health, one in three adults in Massachusetts – approximately 1.8 million people – has prediabetes, but only 7 percent know they have it.
 
Without lifestyle changes to improve their health, such as following a diet and exercise plan designed to lose excess weight, 15 to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop type-2 diabetes within five years, according to the DPH.
 
Diabetes costs the U.S. economy more than $245 billion per year, making it the country’s most expensive disease, according to the personal finance website WalletHub.com. It’s the third most-deadly disease in the U.S., claiming more than 80,000 lives per year, and is becoming a daily concern for millions more.
 
Awareness is essential
Part of the challenge in addressing prediabetes is that there may not be any signs or symptoms. Because so many people are unaware of the condition, employers and insurers are working together to find ways to increase awareness by offering screenings, followed by lifestyle change programs that can reverse the condition.
 
MIIA’s health insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, recently launched a new Prediabetes Screening Program with on-site health screenings to make it easy for employees to obtain critical health information and follow-up recommendations.
 
These screenings provide biometric data that help to assess one’s risk. The onsite testing is provided by experienced Blue Cross health professionals and delivers real-time results and personalized follow-up support to help employees actively manage their health.
 
“Our new prediabetes screening program is seeing an increase in employee engagement,” said Alyssa Holzman, Blue Cross’s program manager. “Users want to know their vital health numbers and like the extra wellness coaching and other high-touch aspects of the program.”
 
MIIA’s wellness team focuses on programs that promote healthy lifestyles. The Well Aware program integrates the most important behavioral factors that impact the development of type-2 diabetes. They are: maintaining a healthy weight, engaging in daily activity, and making healthier food choices.
 
“‘The Biggest Winner’ and ‘Eating Mediterranean’ online programs, as well as our on-site classes, such as ‘Health at Any Age and Size,’ and ‘Carbs, Cravings, Snacks and Label Reading,’ can all help employees manage their health to avoid prediabetes,” says MIIA Wellness Program Specialist Jayne Schmitz. “Members are seeing many of their employees adopt healthier lifestyles. And healthier employees make for happier, more productive employees.”
 
Screening is just the beginning
There are many benefits to screening for prediabetes and providing the guidance and resources to make healthy lifestyle changes. For cities and towns, encouraging healthy behavior changes for employees results in health improvements and risk reduction. It also leads to increased employee engagement as well as improved productivity and retention.
 
For employees, the screenings increase awareness of their current health status and provide guidance, including tips on how to avoid cardiometabolic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Most importantly, screening programs offer coaching support as employees make lifestyle changes in between routine doctor’s visits.
 
Incentives can also help to get employees screened. For example, MIIA’s program with Blue Cross enters participating employees into a raffle to win a gift card.
 
The good news is that more organizations and resources are being developed to increase the awareness of how important dietary, exercise and other lifestyle behaviors are to good health.
 
A list of organizations currently offering Diabetes Prevention Programs can be found at https://tinyurl.com/MassDPP. And the first-ever national campaign, DoIHavePrediabetes.org, is underway, with support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Ad Council, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Medical Association.
 
Screenings and knowing one’s numbers are important, but the key is to understand how one’s own choices over time impact the development of illness and disease.
 
It’s important for employers to provide a supportive worksite where employees are encouraged to be active, choose healthy foods, control unmanaged stress, and connect with their colleagues in enjoyable ways. In essence, employers should create the conditions around which employees will naturally adopt healthier habits. This strategy, in conjunction with an awareness and lifestyle management program around prediabetes, has the best chance of producing results.
 
Employers are advised to check with their health insurance provider to see what prediabetes programs they offer, or can develop, to support employees.
 

Written by Chris Bailey, MIIA Health Trust Manager