A new Israelis study shows that even healthy people are at risk of developing diabetes if there are high levels of stress in the work place. The Tel Aviv University study shows that physical and psychological strain caused by the work environment can be as dangerous as common risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and physical inactivity when it comes to predicting the development of diabetes.
Dr. Sharon Toker of TAU’s Faculty of Management found that low levels of social support and high levels of stress in the workplace can accurately predict the development of diabetes over the long term — even in employees who appear to be healthy otherwise.
Her findings paint a grim picture, with a worrying rise in the rate of diabetes in the researchers’ middle-aged study cohort, which had a mean age of 48. “You don’t want to see working populations have an increasing rate of diabetes. It’s costly to both employees and employers, resulting in absenteeism and triggering expensive medical insurance,” Toker says.
For the study, conducted in collaboration with Prof. Arie Shirom of TAU, Dr. Galit Armon of the University of Haifa, and Dr. Samuel Melamed of the Tel Aviv Yaffo Academic College, researchers recruited 5,843 individuals who visited a health center in Tel Aviv for a routine physical examination sponsored by their employer. On these initial visits, all participants were healthy and had no indication of diabetes.
The researchers surveyed the participants according to an “expanded job strain model,” which takes into account measures of social support, perceived workload, and perceived control over work pace and objectives.
After the initial interview and examination, the health of all participants was followed for a period of 41 months, over which time 182 participants developed diabetes, reports Toker. When these results were analyzed in relation to reported work conditions, social support emerged as a strong protective factor against the development of the disease, with supported individuals significantly less at risk for diabetes than their unsupported peers.
The study showed that the workload was also correlated with disease development, with employees who felt either overworked or underworked being at increased risk. Toker says employees will be stressed when overloaded, but they still need to feel challenged to be satisfied in their jobs.
The findings were published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.