Help! I think my job is giving me diabetes
by Abraham Lee
DIABETES isn’t a disease you “catch”, and that means that nobody can “give” it to you. But it’s not far-fetched to say that your job could put you at risk. Lifestyle factors form many of the risk factors for developing diabetes, and since we spend about a third of our day working (and for some of us another third of our day thinking about work), your job, work environment and the people around you become key factors in the war against diabetes.
Singaporeans work among the longest hours in the world. In 2015, we worked “an average of 2,371.2 paid hours” – longer hours than those in reputedly ‘workaholic’ nations like South Korea and Japan. Work habits and culture have a great deal of influence over our lives simply because we spend so much of our time at work.
While great habits at work can promote positivity, bad ones can debilitate other areas of our lives, especially our health. Singapore ranks second among developed nations for diabetics as a proportion of the population, with 11.3 per cent of Singapore residents suffering from diabetes in 2010. That number is projected to rise dramatically to 20 per cent by 2050.
None of us wants the lifetime burden that diabetes promises. The incurable disease is also the gateway to heart disease, stroke, blindness and other complications. The most common strain, Type 2 diabetes, is largely due to lifestyle factors and is usually seen “in people aged 40 and above who are overweight and physically inactive”.
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So what are the riskiest things about our job, diabetes-wise?
Working late can disrupt your mealtimes, sleep patterns, and heighten stress levels. Irregular meal times from skipped meals or late lunches or working late “are linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome”, a group of factors that increase the risk of heart disease and problems like diabetes.
Stress from work also messes up your hormone levels, including cortisol which increases appetite and can lead to overeating when its levels remain elevated due to continued stress.
Entertaining clients over drinks, or going out drinking with colleagues, if done too frequently, can also become a hazardous habit as alcohol intake is linked to Type 2 diabetes.
Your work posture can cause tension in your muscles which in turn changes our hormone levels. Sedentary, desk-bound work also lowers our activity levels, which puts us at risk of weight gain, which can lead to diabetes.
Fatigue from work often discourages us from spending time in the evening exercising – it’s much more tempting to veg out in front of the computer or TV, and then go to sleep.
While workers should take responsibility for their own choices, companies are also key stakeholders in promoting healthy lifestyles for employees through healthier work culture. Promoting work life balance, encouraging workers to exercise more and reminding them to practise self-care will result in healthier and more productive employees.
It’s not all that difficult to do either. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has led the way with healthy eating campaigns and the National Steps Challenge which encourages walking 10,000 steps per day with in-kind rewards. In its second season, it introduced the Corporate Challenge pitting companies against each other with cash prizes at stake and setting up a platform for intra-company challenges.
Complementing HPB’s National Step Challenge is AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme, launched by AIA Singapore to help users make real change to their health. The programme offers weekly rewards to members when they meet their weekly physical activity targets, cashback, discounts on gym memberships, airfares and more to incentivise them in making healthy choices. This wellness programme is also made available to companies who wish to have it as part of a comprehensive health and wellness benefit for its employees.
It’s going to be a tough fight to live a healthy lifestyle at the workplace, but with the commitment from both the public and private sectors to create a healthier workforce, we can win the fight against diabetes. In the end everyone stands to gain – us, the G, employers and our children.
This story is part of a series with AIA Singapore.
AIA Singapore is invested in the health and wellness of Singaporeans and has launched AIA Vitality, a comprehensive wellness programme that rewards members for taking small, everyday steps to improve their health.
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