Mea cuppa! Ditch snacking & beat diabetes, says study

The study highlighted the vital role of a peer-led lifestyle change education programme, complemented by a favourable office policy, in curbing the disease burden of employees.
Image for representational purpose only.
Image for representational purpose only.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Skipping the regular banana fry or vada during tea time can go a long way in offsetting diabetes among office-goers, as per a workplace study conducted in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. Tea-time snacking, often involving fried food high in fat and sugar, has been identified as a major culprit contributing to the rise of diabetes cases among office staff.

It has become a prevalent office culture to indulge in sugary tea and snacks around 10 am and 3-4 pm, even for those without access to a canteen, leading them to frequent nearby tea shops in groups. The study highlighted the vital role of a peer-led lifestyle change education programme, complemented by a favourable office policy, in curbing the disease burden of employees.

Researchers with the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), which contributed to the five-year implantation study (INDIA-WORKS), intervened in a large public sector company based in Thiruvananthapuram, with wonderful results. 

“In workplaces where the programme was implemented with rigour and high fidelity, we noticed regression of glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) values to the normal healthy level in employees at high risk of developing diabetes,” said Dr Jeemon Panniyammakal, additional professor of epidemiology, SCTIMST. 

‘Lower disease burden will improve finances’

Dr Jeemon said in one of the work sites with an employee strength of approximately 8,000, there was not even a single new diagnosis of diabetes in the year following the implementation of INDIA-WORKS. The results after the fifth year were nothing short of impressive. Employees who actively participated in the trial managed to reduce their average weight by 1kg and systolic blood pressure by 3 mmHg.

Researchers highlighted that such control at the population level can have a huge impact, as a mere 2 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure in the population can prevent 10-15% of cardiovascular events.
To ensure cultural appropriateness and resource availability, the researchers devised methods tailored to each workplace. The focus was on preventing the progression of pre-diabetes to diabetes. Eligible employees in the pre-diabetes stage were enrolled in the peer-led lifestyle change education programme, which promoted social support for prevention, healthy eating and exercise.

Furthermore, the work site canteen underwent changes, reducing the availability of fried food items and offering healthier alternatives like cut fruit, additional vegetable dishes during lunch and millet products. The peer groups played a crucial role in motivating each other, encouraging the utilisation of break time for walking in designated walking paths created by the employer. 

Beyond the health benefits, the study shed light on the financial implications for employers. 
“The INDIA-WORKS programme demonstrated population average reduction in cardiometabolic risk factors such as weight, blood pressure and HbA1c. Cumulatively, these changes would reduce the future burden of diabetes and cardiovascular events in the target population,” said Dr Dorairaj Prabhakaran, executive director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Control and distinguished professor at the Public Health Foundation of India.

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