A study in the January issue of Health Affairs has found that students in high school with diabetes are at a higher risk of not completing their secondary education and face lower wages at work. It had already been known that living with diabetes can add a huge weight of restriction to one’s life because of its countless health effects, but whether or not the disease has a significant effect on success at high school or in the workplace had not before been evaluated. The study found that high school dropout rates for people with diabetes are 6% higher than for high school students without the disease. In terms of job prospects, those who are diabetic, face a loss of more than $160,000 in wages over their working life, compared to those who aren’t.

According to Jason M. Fletcher, an associate professor of public health at Yale University:

“Diabetes has a marked effect on schooling and earnings early in life, yet these are relatively unexamined implications of this disease”.

Fletcher and coauthor Michael R. Richards used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health as a means of analyzing the effects of diabetes among teenagers as they approach adulthood. The survey observed over 15,000 teenagers and provided distinctive insight into the economic effects the disease can have on them, as they get older.

They found that the disparity in the high school dropout rate for diabetics compared to non-diabetics – over 6 percentage points higher – is greater than the male-female and black-white differences, and is comparable to the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder dropout rate. Interestingly, teenage diabetics with parents who also suffer from the disease, were found to be 4-6% less likely to attend college.

The societal and economic implications continue as diabetics age; in their thirties they are 10% less likely to be employed, and can expect to earn $6,000 less per year – approximately $160,000 over their lifetime. This could be largely to do with the reduced education received.

Various explanations have been offered on why some of these consequences occur. Fletcher and Richards note that diabetes could alter a persons desire to enter the workforce, given their health-related condition, and that employers could be less partial to hire a diabetic with concerns of productivity in mind. A reason why diabetics might decide to stay in lower paying jobs could be fear of losing their health insurance, being classed as “job-locked” to ensure their medical needs are met.

As a disease that affects 25 million people in the US alone – costing $200 billion a year – diabetes is rampantly becoming one of the nation’s toughest diseases to battle. The effects that diabetes has on teenage students and their employment prospects could end up costing society over $10 billion during their lifetime.

The authors stressed the importance of policy makers focusing on diabetes prevention for young children and the support of in-school diabetes screening. By screening at school, the number of undiagnosed diabetic children would be reduced significantly, as well as the mitigation of the consequences it can have in their later life. Research should be made on children with diabetic parents to have a better idea on how to reduce potential educational effects on them, as the authors noted “Given the unyielding rise of diabetes and obesity among the population as a whole, the potential of diabetes to strike in one generation and then have negatives effects on the next is a cause for alarm,”.

Written By Joseph Nordqvist