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Protecting the Company's Most Valuable Assets
Fighting Diabetes in the Workplace

Tailor-made car? Not likely for the average consumer. But at General Motors, employees and their families can get a tailor-made fitness plan to keep track of their weight, exercise and eating habits and help manage their diabetes.

In this article...
By Isabel M. Estrada Portales

Tailor-made car? Not likely for the average consumer. But at General Motors, employees and their families can get a tailor-made fitness plan to keep track of their weight, exercise and eating habits and help manage their diabetes.

The LifeSteps, an award winning corporate-union program created and run by General Motors and the United Auto Workers Union (UAW-GM), helps employees to better manage their health issues. was designed as an educational tool to provide health news and information to employees and members of UAW-GM, not only online, but also provides participants with personal assistance from fitness experts and physicians.

Since nearly 25 percent of GM employees are minorities, the company has been looking at assuring that minority-health-specific issues are addressed. That's why diabetes is high on the list of priorities.

American Diabetes Month November 2007.

GM is a corporate leader in promoting diabetes awareness, according to Dr. David B. Siegel, Assistant Director of GM Health Services Operations and Programs. "This disease disproportionately affects non-Caucasians. GM holds the corporate representation seat on Michigan's Diabetes Policy Advisory Committee," he said.

At GM, Dr. Siegel says, there is great emphasis on cultural competency. "We speak in the language that people understand, and about things they do."

In the Flint, Michigan, area, GM holds Diabetes Sundays, specifically targeting the African American community. "It's a faith-based event, but we are using it as a venue to speak to issues of health that are of interest to the entire community."

The diabetes component of the LifeSteps program is free to employees, confidential and voluntary. It promotes improved quality of patient care while improving care coordination for diabetic employees. It does not replace the primary care physician, but provides ongoing, long-term support for diabetics in the workplace, explains Dr. Siegel.

Within the next decade, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, predicts that 41.5% of the U.S. workforce will be members of racial and ethnic minority groups. At the same time, numerous studies have shown that racial and ethnic health disparities exist in various aspects of the health care system.

Disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of specific health conditions, the utilization of preventive services, and health outcomes still appear, even when controlling for economic and health insurance status.

According to the latest CDC statistics[PDF, 120KB] for adults 20 years or older, 8.7% of whites have diabetes compared to 13.3% for African Americans, 9.7% of Hispanics and 12.8% of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In other words, "diabetes continues to be more common (1.7 to 2.2 times more common) among American Indians and Alaska Natives, non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders," says a statement from CDC.

Given the importance of taking action at the worksite, the HHS' National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) has developed a program for employers called Diabetes at Work. Exit Disclaimer

Employers are finding innovative ways to help employees prevent and manage their diabetes. Their programs are not only helping employees lead healthier lives, but are also demonstrating a positive return on investment, which takes many forms including reducing or stabilizing health care costs, improving productivity, or reducing absenteeism.

Diabetes at Work Exit Disclaimer is a free and easy-to-use service that allows employers to download information to disseminate. It offers assessment tools, lesson plans and fact sheets in English and Spanish, along with an interactive user's planning guide.

So, are programs like LifeSteps and Diabetes at Work an added cost, or an investment?

A study Exit Disclaimer published by The Commonwealth Fund in April 2003 states that "there is some evidence that the LifeSteps program has succeeded in slowing the rate of increase in health care costs. Our study found that LifeSteps interventions may save $42,355 per 1,000 active employees, or roughly $42 a person—sizable savings for a self-insured company responsible for the health care costs of 1.25 million employees, dependents, and retirees."

Dr. Siegel also insists that the benefits are well beyond dollars and cents. "A lot of our competitive strength comes from having a healthy workforce. We are part of the community, so as this program reaches the spouses and children of the employees and the retirees, we are having an impact on the health of the community as a whole."

Charles B. Estey, vice president of Health Solutions, Inc, a firm that provides employee health services and disease management programs to employers, in Flint, Michigan, also says that these programs improve employee health status. "If someone has four health risks in 2005 and has two health risks in 2007, their health status has improved, which directly impacts health care utilization and costs."


Isabel M. Estrada Portales is the OMHRC Director of Communications. Comments? Email:

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Gestational Diabetes Quiz

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Questions and Answers about Diabetes in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Diabetes at Work Exit Disclaimer

Making the Business Case for Diabetes Prevention and Management Exit Disclaimer

The Business Case for Eliminating Health Disparities

National Diabetes Fact Sheet [PDF, 120KB]

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Content Last Modified: 11/1/2007 3:24:00 PM
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