Diabetes costs the U.S. at least $7.3 billion per year in lost productivity, according to a new study from the University of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The grand total of productivity loss from diabetes for adults born from 1931 to 1941 was more than $133 billion by the year 2000, say the researchers, who included Sandeep Vijan, MD, MS, of the University of Michigan.

The price tag for diabetes-related disability, sick days, and lost income could be even higher, since the study only focused on one generation of adults.

Vijan and colleagues based their numbers on data from the Health and Retirement Study, a long-term, national research project funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Calling the economic impact of diabetes “staggering,” the researchers say the problem is likely to worsen due to “epidemic” numbers of young people with diabetes.

America already has an estimated 16-17 million people with diabetes, say the researchers, citing 2002 statistics from the CDC.

“This study is a stark reminder of the huge financial burden diabetes places on patients, their families, and society,” says U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, in a news release.

High Diabetes Costs Tied to Related Problems

Many of diabetes’ costs “are largely related to the disability resulting from complications of the disease, rather than to the disease itself,” write the researchers in the December issue of the journal Health Services Research.

For instance, rates of coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, visual impairment, kidney/bladder problems, foot problems, and high blood pressure were all higher among people with diabetes than those without diabetes.

More than 17 percent of participants with diabetes had coronary artery disease, compared with 7.4 percent without diabetes. Congestive heart failure was present in 6 percent of participants with diabetes and only 1.5 percent of those without diabetes. Likewise, stroke affected 6 percent of participants with diabetes and almost 3 percent of those without diabetes.

Since many diabetes complications are preventable, the researchers call for public health efforts and workplace programs to help reverse the trend.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Vijan, S. Health Services Research, December 2004; vol 39: pp 1653-1669. News release, University of Michigan.