Around 382 million people worldwide have diabetes. By 2035, this figure is estimated to rise to 592 million, with type 2 diabetes accounting for around 90% of all cases. It goes without saying that diabetes prevalence is putting a huge strain on health care. But what is the global economic impact of the disease? This is a question that is addressed in a study by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

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The US was found to have the highest lifetime health care costs related to type 2 diabetes, at $283,000.

Published in the journal PharmacoEconomics, the research drew data from 109 studies that assessed the economic effects of type 2 diabetes among low-, high- and middle-income countries.

Lead researcher Till Seuring, of the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and colleagues note that while the worldwide increase in type 2 diabetes prevalence is recognized, information on the economic burden of the disease is sparse.

As such, the team set out to conduct a rigorous review of all studies investigating this issue that have been published since 2001.

In particular, the researchers analyzed the direct costs associated with type 2 diabetes – including doctor and hospital visits, medication and laboratory costs for tests – and indirect costs, such as income losses as a result of early retirement and lost work hours due to illness.

The results of the analysis revealed that around two thirds of all new cases of type 2 diabetes are diagnosed in low- and middle-income countries, such as Mexico, India, China and Egypt.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with diabetes in low- and middle-income countries were found to have a higher cost burden as a result of the condition, compared with those in high-income countries.

The team notes that people with health insurance coverage were most protected against out-of-pocket expenditures as a result of type 2 diabetes, but this was most likely to be the case for people with higher incomes.

“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,” explains Seuring.

Compared with countries that have similar average income levels, people with type 2 diabetes in the US were found to have the highest lifetime health care costs related to the disease, at $283,000.

What is more, American women with type 2 diabetes were found to have the highest annual income loss worldwide, losing $21,392 per year. In the US, the condition also reduces a woman’s chance of employment by 50%, the researchers found.

In all other countries, however, men with type 2 diabetes were found to have the worst employment opportunities. In Taiwan, for example, men with the condition were found to have a 19% reduced chance of employment.

Commenting on their results, Seuring says:

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.

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.”

Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in The BMJ, in which researchers detailed the creation of a “precision medicine” model that they say could help prevent diabetes in populations at high risk for the condition.