Published on 19 March 2015

A new report has suggested that having type 2 diabetes may not only be a problem for health but could also impact on people's employment chances and wages.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia, supported by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), studied the economic impact of type 2 diabetes worldwide. The findings were recently published in the report, The economic costs of type 2 diabetes: a global systematic review for medical journal Pharmaco Economics.

Although the health challenges linked with the condition are well known, the new study provided detailed research into the impact on the global economy and labour markets of type 2 diabetes.

The research team looked at figures from 109 studies in the largest and most up-to-date global review of the economic impact of diabetes.

The report highlighted not only the large cost burden in high-income countries, but also in low and middle-income countries - where people with type 2 diabetes and their families face high costs for treatment.

Infographic highlighting some of the key findings from the study into the global impact of type 2 diabetes

Lead researcher Till Seuring, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School said: “Diabetes affects 382 million people worldwide, and that number is expected to grow to 592 million by 2035. It is a chronic condition that has spread widely in recent decades - not only in high-income countries, but also in many populous low and middle-income countries such as India and China.

“The rising prevalence of diabetes in these countries has been fuelled by rapid urbanisation, changing eating habits, and increasingly sedentary [inactive] lifestyles.”

The report found that employment opportunities were worse globally for men with diabetes, although the impact for women with the condition appeared to be less adverse - except for in the US, where their employment chances decreased by almost half.

The US was also where people with diabetes faced the highest healthcare costs - with an estimated lifetime cost of around $283,000 (more than £190,000). These costs are higher than in others countries with similar income levels per person.

A higher cost burden for people in low and middle income countries meant that poor people with diabetes were hit the hardest globally.

The report also found that two thirds of all new cases of diabetes are now in low and middle income countries such as China, India, Mexico, and Egypt.

And if the condition gets worse over time the cost of care is also expected to increase.

The review provides detailed information about both direct costs of the condition, such as doctor and hospital visits, medication, lab costs for tests, and equipment costs, as well as indirect costs such as income losses due to early retirement, and lost work hours due to illness.

Mr Seuring added: “The characteristics of the economic burden vary from country to country depending on the health care system in place. In high income countries the burden often affects government or public health insurance budgets while in poorer countries a large part of the burden falls on the person with diabetes and their family due to very limited health insurance coverage.

“Our results show a considerable impact of diabetes in terms of costs to society, health systems, individuals and employers.

“This research provides a comprehensive picture of the economic impact of diabetes in poorer countries. The results show that people in these countries are the worst off because the economic burden on their livelihoods is much greater.

“Our findings underline the fact that diabetes not only has strong adverse effects on people's health but also presents a large - and at least partly avoidable - economic burden.

“We also found that the economic burden of diabetes increases over time. So early investments into prevention and condition management may therefore be particularly worthwhile.

“For both rich and poor countries, the results mean that better prevention and management of diabetes has the potential to not only bring good health but also economic gains.

“We would hope that the findings further increase the policy attention being paid to diabetes prevention and management in rich countries and it should in particular make health and economic policymakers in developing countries aware of the economic damage that diabetes can do.”

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