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Jan 16, 2015 07:19 PM EST

Michigan Autoworkers Have a Higher Risk of Diabetes, Heart Disease

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Autoworkers in Michigan state have a higher risk of heart disease compared to the United States population overall, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Michigan State University found that the prevalence of diabetes among this group was 15.3 percent; double the national average of 7.5 percent at the time of the study.

"We hypothesized that this group may have a higher incidence of diabetes and risk for cardiovascular disease, and we wanted to prove it," Ved Gossain, who led the study, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers collected data from 190 autoworkers in Lansing and Pontiac, Michigan who agreed to participate in the study. They were evaluated based on risk factors including obesity, smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Prior data obtained by General Motors and the United Auto Workers showed heart disease was the number one cause of death and disability within the workplace, with diabetes coming in fourth for male employees and eighth for female employees.

"As an employer, the next logical question is to ask 'why?'" Gossain said. "So we set out to find the answer."

Results showed 53 percent of the workers were obese with another nearly 36 percent considered overweight. Sixty-seven percent also had higher levels of LDL, or "bad," cholesterol than the national average of 31 percent. Elevated LDL levels put individuals at a greater risk of heart attack because it can collect in the walls of blood vessels and cause blockages.

In addition, while only 16 percent of employees were current smokers, nearly 58 percent were former smokers, which also increased risk.

Blood pressure, stress levels and physical activity were also evaluated but were found to have minimal effect within this group.

"The study is a good representation of the health of autoworkers in this area and possibly the Midwest," Gossain said. "Hopefully companies will look at this data and begin to implement health and wellness programs that their employees will participate in."

The findings are detailed in the Journal of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Obesity.

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