To combat the rise in chronic disease rates and the subsequent impact on the health-care system and benefits costs, there’s been a shift in thinking by employers, health professionals and benefits providers towards prevention rather than just treatment.

“There is a sense of urgency for preventative measures,” said Derek Weir, manager of group benefits solutions at Medavie Blue Cross, speaking at a conference on chronic disease management hosted by the insurance company last week. “Chronic diseases are driving health-care utilization and costs and impacting thousands of lives.”

Preventative measures can be divided into four key points, said Greg Wells, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Toronto and an associate scientist of physiology and experimental medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children. Speaking at the conference in Toronto on Thursday, he noted the key points, which are equally important, are good sleep, eating better, exercise and brain health.

Read: The growing impact of chronic disease

“A good diet can’t make up for a sedentary lifestyle and you can’t think clearly without adequate sleep,” said Wells.

The importance of a good diet and physical activity has been stressed for many years, but there has been increased research into the importance of sleep and brain health, he noted. “Only 12 per cent of people report their sleep is good or very good. Lack of sleep not only impairs our ability to function but also impacts our health, increasing our risks for heart attack, stroke and depression. Not enough sleep can actually shorten our lives.”

Read: Employers urged to address ‘serious public health issue’ of poor sleep

Also speaking at the event, Jaan Reitav, a staff psychologist for the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s cardiovascular prevention and rehabilitation program, agreed. “Sleep is highly underrated in health care,” he said. “The magnitude of its effects on health is similar to the effects of diet and exercise.”

Stress is also often overlooked, he added. “In North America, stress is a huge factor, especially for younger workers. We all have stress — what’s important is how we manage it. This is why extended health plans are important.”

Read: What can employers do to create psychologically healthy workplaces?

One of the greatest chronic disease concerns is the increase of Type 2 diabetes, according to another speaker at the event. “It’s a global epidemic,” said Ian Blumer, director of the Charles H. Best Diabetes Centre in Whitby, Ont. He noted that 10 per cent of the Canadian population is currently affected by diabetes. “That’s at least 400,000 in Toronto alone.”

This epidemic, said Blumer, has tremendous human, societal and financial implications. Unmanaged, diabetes can lead to kidney failure, amputations and blindness, and 80 per cent of diabetics die as the result of heart disease or stroke.

“However, the single greatest advance ever made in keeping people with diabetes healthy is diabetes education, helping people know how to manage the situation and prevent complications,” said Blumer.

Read: Rising diabetes cases signal need for more workplace screening

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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