Making a difference in today’s diabetes epidemic

By Tonja Dodd
Blood sugar chart and produce to make a difference in diabetes - Vitality

In late May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information stating that the incidence of diabetes declined for the first time in 20 years. Headlines beamed, “After 20-year increase, New Diabetes Cases Decline – there was a 35% drop in new diabetes diagnoses – and no increase in total cases.”

The news release, stemming from the British Medical Journals’ Open Diabetes Research and Care, goes on to say that new cases have declined from 1.7 million per year in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2017. There’s more good news: The number of people living with diagnosed diabetes in the United States has remained stable during the past eight years.

This information is certainly newsworthy and a step in the right direction for those of us who have been working toward reducing diabetes risks. However, it does not mean we should become complacent. The fact remains that more than 30 million Americans (9.4% of the US population) and 422 million people globally (8.5% of the world’s population) have diabetes.

Intervening with individuals who are on the verge of a diabetes diagnosis – those with prediabetes – continues to be the biggest opportunity to continue to reduce the incidence of diabetes. More than eighty-four million Americans have prediabetes – that’s one out of three adults! Without intervention, prediabetes likely leads to diabetes within five years, while the risk for diabetes can be cut in half if a person who has prediabetes loses weight through eating healthy and being more active.

The power of healthy behavior change cannot be understated and should provide all of us with encouragement – the problem is solvable, but it requires a collective commitment to creating ecosystems that support healthier behaviors. Public health zealots, employers, the wellness industry, healthcare providers, insurers and the food industry all play critical roles.

For the public health arena that means continuing to study and promote the CDC’s proven effective Diabetes Prevention Program.

For employers it means targeting employees with prediabetes and focusing efforts on their eating healthy, being active and losing weight, and includes:

  • Creating a thoughtful strategic plan: Including prediabetes on the list for health engagement and promotion campaigns and programming when devising your annual health and wellness plan.
  • Incorporating greater flexibility: Consider changing leave policies so there’s more flexibility for employees to engage in wellness programming and seek health care.
  • Providing healthy food: Re-consider contracting with a food service vendor who offers affordable healthy and appealing options.
  • Creating an active workplace: Encourage exercise at the workplace,e., have exercise breaks during shift-work, create a safe and aesthetically pleasing walking path for employees.

At Vitality we are committed to continuing to promote best practices. This means:

  • Strong communication: Crafting member messages that are focused, timely, loss-framed and supportive.
  • Collaboration: Taking a collaborative approach with our clients and working with them to build an effective wellness program infrastructure from the company mission statement to the front-line wellness champions, to help reduce risks for diabetes.
  • Rich incentives to sustain healthy behavior change: Offering members a variety of resonant rewards and incentive mechanisms all with a view toward generating healthy behavior change.

Together we can make a difference in the diabetes epidemic.


Tonja is a Sr. Health Strategy Analyst working for Vitality Group, Inc. translating clinical guidelines into risk appropriate health promotion strategies to ultimately engage members in healthy behaviors. Her background is in Public Health with 25 years of experience designing, developing and delivering health and wellness programs and products. Tonja finds her healthy place is being active outdoors and spending time with family, friends and pets.

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