Study: Costs of diabetes care, number diagnosed could skyrocket by 2034

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By 2034, the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is estimated to reach 44.1 million, while the costs associated with the disease could skyrocket to $336 billion from the current $113 billion, according to research published in the December issue of Diabetes Care.

Elbert S. Huang, MD, of the University of Chicago Medical Center, and colleagues found that due to the number of people considered obese or overweight, diabetes and its costs will climb significantly over the next 25 years if the current trends persist.

According to the authors, by 2034, the current number of people diagnosed with diabetes (23.7 million) will increase by 20.4 million.

"These projections stress the importance of prevention and education," said the authors. "The requisite change in lifestyle, exercise or nutrition habits will be more difficult than if a drug is developed for treatment."

Researchers linked the surge in those diagnosed with the disease to the aging baby boomer generation and the number of people already considered obese or overweight stands at 65 percent and rising.

"If we don't change our diet and exercise habits or find new, more effective and less expensive ways to prevent and treat diabetes, we will find ourselves in a lot of trouble as a population," said Huang.

In addition, researchers also project that the number of the population diagnosed with diabetes and eligible to receive Medicare will ascend from its current state of 8.2 million to 14.6 million by 2034, with costs escalating from $45 billion to $171 billion.

Researchers found that prior study estimations associated with diabetes have already missed the mark and the 2009 numbers have surpassed previous predictions significantly. For example, results of a 1991 study expected the number of those diagnosed with the disease to double from 6.5 million in 1987 to 11.6 million in 2030; this number is less than half the number of cases in 2009.

However, authors cautioned that the current assessments may be conservative due to the fact that obesity levels for the non-diabetic population are expected to top out by 2033, shrinking slightly from 30 percent to 27 percent.

"We anticipate that the population will reach equilibrium in obesity levels, since we cannot all become obese," said Huang.

While authors alleged that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, end-stage kidney disease and amputations, they also said that due to increased treatment and therapy those with the disease are living longer and being diagnosed earlier.

“The cost of doing nothing is the significant increase in the pain and suffering of America's population and a financial burden that will threaten the financial viability of public and private insurers alike," said Michael O’Grady, PhD, co-author of the study and a fellow at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.