Are bad workplace habits putting you at risk of diabetes?

Are bad workplace habits putting you at risk of diabetes?

SINGAPORE - According to a global survey done in 2011, 50 per cent of Singapore workers spend well over eight hours a day at the office.

Two out of ten workers put in more than eleven hours of work a day. Even those who get to go home aren't spared - 50 per cent of Singapore workers say they regularly take work home to finish.

Given that so many of us spend our lives dedicated to work, it follows that poor workplace habits can put a serious dent in our health.

Time spent in the office and hunched over a desk means less time for exercise or being physically active. In addition, a fast-pace life often comes at the expense of healthy eating habits - for example,  indulging in fast food as opposed to eating a balanced home-cooked meal.

This increases the risk of obesity and more dangerously, Type 2 diabetes. YourHealth speaks to  Dr Philippe Guibert, Medical Director for International SOS, on how long hours at the office puts us at risk of Type 2 diabetes.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic medical condition whereby a person has high blood sugar, resulting in the body’s inability to produce enough insulin or respond to the insulin that is produced.

There are three types: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. Type 2 is what you call “lifestyle” diabetes, as it is linked to obesity, lack of physical activity and unhealthy diet.

All these factors result in insulin resistence, affecting the body's ability to regulate its blood sugar levels, Dr Guibert explained.

It not only affects the elderly, but also increasingly the young. It represents 90 per cent of diabetic cases worldwide, and one in nine people in Singapore suffer from some type of diabetes - a six-fold rise from 35 years ago.

For those suffering from diabetes, neglecting the condition can result in hypoglycaemia, where blood sugar levels drop, causing symptoms such as clammy skin, trembling, heart palpitations, anxiety, headaches and difficulty in thinking.

This not only results in a loss of productivity, but also puts workers at risk of long-term damage to their health.

Left uncontrolled, diabetes can cause complications such as damage to eyes (leading to blindness), kidneys (leading to renal failure), and nerves (leading to impotence, foot disorders and possibly amputation). It also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with moderate weight loss and exercise.

Fixing poor workplace habits 

Fixing poor workplace habits

Long and irregular working hours coupled with work stress are usually the main culprits, said Dr Guibert.

This usually results in a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits such as skipping breakfast or lunch, eating at the desk or in a car, ordering quick-fix meals such as fast food, and overeating or compulsive snacking to make up for a skipped meal.

"These habits put us at greater risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and should be avoided," he advised.

Simple changes that can make a big difference include allowing time for physical activity outside working hours, and making an effort to adopt healthy eating habits in the office.

For example, Dr Guibert advised to always take time to eat breakfast and a well-balanced and nutritious meal for lunch. Proper meals help to keep blood sugar levels in control, preventing fluctuations that can increase the urge to snack on unhealthy foods.

In addition, if an after-work gym session is out of the question, try to squeeze in some physical activity while going to and from work, he said.

Some tips include getting off the bus one stop earlier, cycling or walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the lift at MRT stations, or even spending 30 minutes of your lunch hour at the gym.

Employers can help

Employers have a vital part to play in raising awareness of the disease and helping employees lower their risk of diabetes.

Some of the health promotion efforts corporations can embark on include promoting healthier eating habits at work and the importance of early detection through health screenings or fit-for-work programs.

For existing diabetes patients, they need to understand how to properly manage their condition, especially if they are to be sent to work away from home.

Employers need to make provisions for these employees to empower them to properly manage their condition, including providing adequate preparation before deploying these employees abroad or to remote locations.

yamadak@sph.com.sg