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Nov. 15, 2004


Diabetes among older Americans cost $133.5 billion in 1990s

ANN ARBOR, Mich—Diabetes is harming the nationís economy as well as its health, according to a University of Michigan study showing that lost productivity among diabetic Americans born between 1931 and 1941 cost the country nearly $133.5 billion by the year 2000.

“Diabetes has a staggering economic impact as well as serious health effects,” said U-M researcher Sandeep Vijan, an assistant professor of internal medicine and lead author of the study, which was funded in part by the Michigan Retirement Research Center at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

About 18.2 million Americans are estimated to have diabetes, and given the aging of the population and the dramatic increase in obesity and sedentary lifestyles even among the young, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing at an epidemic rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recently estimated that given current trends, one in three people born today will develop the disease.

For the study, published in the December issue of Health Services Research, Vijan and U-M co-authors Rodney Hayward and Kenneth Langa analyzed diabetes-associated mortality, disability, early retirement and work absenteeism among a national household sample of older adults interviewed over an eight-year period. Their analysis was funded primarily by the Social Security Administration, using data from the Health and Retirement Study conducted by ISR.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Health and Retirement Study has conducted interviews every two years since 1992 with a nationally representative sample of 22,000 Americans age 50 and over to assess major trends in health and economic well-being.

Analyzing the health and work history of study participants who were born between 1931 and 1941, and controlling for other health conditions, the researchers found that diabetes was a significant predictor of lost productivity.

The average person with diabetes lost $2,800 in wages due to early retirement, $630 due to sick days, and $22,100 due to disability, the researchers discovered. When these results were extended to all diabetics born between 1931 and 1941—2.3 million people—the economic losses climbed to $58.6 billion. The study also found $60 billion in lost productivity prior to 1992 in the same age group, suggesting a total productivity loss due to diabetes of nearly $120 billion for the eight-year period analyzed.

The analysis excluded people who were already disabled by diabetes at the start of the study. When the lost productivity of this group was added, the economic toll of the disease mounted to $133.5 billion.

Since the analysis was limited to Americans born between 1931 and 1941, the total cost of productivity lost as a result of diabetes is much greater, the researchers said.

Still, they point out that there is room for hope since some of the economic impact of the disease can be attenuated.

“Many diabetes complications are preventable through increased physical activity, improved diet and reduced obesity,” said Langa, an assistant professor of internal medicine and a faculty associate at ISR.

Vijan said that realizing the high economic toll of the disease, employers could offer exercise programs in the workplace, provide and encourage healthy food choices for employees or support disease management programs, all of which can reduce long-term risks of diabetes and its complications.

“Our analyses suggest that such programs are likely to recoup substantial economic gains,” Vijan said. “Indeed, economic analyses of diabetes treatment programs should explicitly consider these individual and societal costs, and policy-makers and others who allocate public health and health care resources should be aware of the potential cost savings of improving diabetes treatment programs.”

Vijan, Hayward and Langa are also affiliated with the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Health System.

Web links:
More information on Vijay >

More information on Langa >

Michigan Retirement Research Center >

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China, and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information.

Contact: Diane Swanbrow
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