Chronic Conditions, Diabetes, Health Research, Social Connectedness | By | 08/31/18 | 2 Minute Read

Social Connectedness May Minimize the Risk of Diabetes

The health benefits of social connectedness are numerous: increased chance of longevity, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and a stronger immune system. Research from Stanford Medicine also shows that a strong social connection helps an individual recover from disease faster. Positive social interactions at work have also been shown to improve workforce productivity levels and health, including lowering heart rate and blood pressure.

Socialization may also be able to help individuals minimize their risk for one of the most common chronic illnesses today: diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. Total medical costs and lost work and wages for people with diagnosed diabetes is hovering at a whopping $245 billion.

Looking at all risk factors. To slow the diabetes epidemic, researchers are now looking more closely at lifestyle factors (other than poor diet, inactivity, and tobacco) that can trigger onset. A study at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands evaluated the role of social connectedness and diabetes risk, and they unearthed a valuable data point: a person who cultivates broader, genuine social groups–and stays connected–can reduce their chances of diabetes.

The research included individuals with normal glucose levels (57%) along with participants (43%) who had either prediabetes or existing type 2 diabetes. Researchers gathered information about each person’s social networks such as sports clubs, religious groups, volunteer organizations, discussion groups, and Internet groups, and their regular social behaviors, including interactions and proximity to friends and family. The key takeaways include:

Isolation leads to higher diabetes risk. The report found that social connections have an impact on diabetes: people with larger social groups receive fewer type 2 diabetes diagnoses compared to socially isolated people. On average, the women with normal glucose levels had 12+ people in their social networks, while women with prediabetes or diabetes had fewer (eight to 11). Researchers noted similar statistically significant differences in the social networks of men. Those with normal glucose levels reported having larger social networks vs. men in the prediabetes or diabetes group.

Researchers found that isolated women with a lack of social participation had a 112 percent higher odds of previously diagnosed type 2 diabetes relative to women with larger social networks. And withdrawn men with fewer social connections were 42 percent more likely to have previously diagnosed type 2 diabetes .

Living alone contributes to risk. The author of the research reports that emotional support, network size, and different types of relationships and living arrangements can all influence risk of type 2 diabetes. Men living alone had 94 percent higher odds of type 2 diabetes, making them a high-risk group. Those men noted poor dietary habits at home and lacked people to encourage them to stay healthy.

While you can’t influence an employee’s living situation, you can try to make a difference in the diabetes risk equation. Social connections are just as important in the workplace as they are in other aspects of life. Learn how to implement work policies that promote social health.

This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.

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