Rising diabetes cases signal need for more workplace screening

Employer-led screening can help Canada get ahead of the diabetes epidemic in this country, according to an occupational medical consultant.

Dr. Alain Sotto, director of year-round care at Medcan, presented statistics at Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work conference showing that 3.5 million Canadians suffered from diabetes in 2016, an alarming 72 per cent increase over 2006. Experts estimate there are about 500 new diagnoses every day in Canada, with a further 7.5 million Canadians having fasting blood-sugar levels high enough to be classified as pre-diabetic, he said.

In his role as a consultant for the Toronto Transit Commission, Sotto organized a voluntary on-site screening program for its workers. He noted management was initially unsure of the need for it.

Read: TTC hosts diabetes screening campaign for staff

“Part of my convincing them was that they know all about safety, but when it comes to health, it’s the poor cousin; it’s an afterthought,” said Sotto. “I said, ‘No it’s a paradigm. You can’t really talk about safety without being healthy first.’ And they got it.”

Each participant had a health report card compiled based on the results of tests in areas such as blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference, three-month blood-sugar levels and cardiovascular health.

“We found 13 per cent had pre-diabetes and seven per cent had diabetes that didn’t even know they had it,” said Sotto. “Those patients were sitting ducks.”

By warning people at risk of diabetes and hastening diagnoses of others, he said the TTC could intervene to halt or slow the progression of the disease. Those who have yet to develop full-blown Type 2 diabetes can reap the highest rewards, according to Sotto, since that form of the disease is preventable.

Read: How to deal with diabetes in the workplace

“Doing 150 minutes of cardio per week and losing five to seven per cent of your body weight is more likely to prevent it than taking a drug,” said Sotto, citing the latest research.

For those who have already acquired the disease, Sotto said it can take an emotional as well as a physical toll, with some studies suggesting about 30 per cent of diabetics report some form of depression.

“It’s affecting all aspects of life,” he said. “People can feel ashamed with their diabetes.”

Whether for the direct or indirect effects of diabetes, Sotto said sufferers will often require some form of accommodation, such as regular breaks or larger screens to help with vision problems caused by extremely high blood sugar.

“Working nights is a problem with diabetes, especially if you need to have three or four injections or regular meals,” he added.

Read: Limiting blood sugar test strips cut costs without harming patient health: study