Chicago Even if the percentage of Americans who are obese stays the same, diabetes cases will nearly double in the U.S. in the next 25 years and the cost of treating the disease will almost triple, according to a new study by researchers based at the University of Chicago.
The study, published Friday in the journal Diabetes Care, found the number of people with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes will climb from almost 24 million this year to about 44 million in 2034. Over the same period, annual diabetes-related treatment costs are expected to increase from $113 billion to $336 billion in 2007 dollars.
Alarmingly, Medicare spending on diabetes is expected to jump from $45 billion to $171 billion and could exceed current projections for all Medicare costs, the researchers said. Much of the increase in cases and costs will be driven by aging baby boomers, the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.
“It’s a combination of the increasing numbers of people who have diabetes along with the cost of treating diabetes that gives us these frightening numbers,” said study co-author Dr. Elbert Huang, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. “The study reinforces the importance of public health efforts to prevent diabetes — by transforming the way we eat and increasing the amount of exercise we do — and emphasizes the importance of finding new ways of treating diabetes efficiently.”
Huang also said the study’s findings could be considered conservative because the researchers’ estimates are based on stable obesity rates.
The number of people becoming obese has risen steadily for many years, though the authors predict that obesity levels among people who don’t have diabetes will top out in the next decade, then decline slightly, from 30 percent today to about 27 percent by 2033.
Costs related to diabetes are rising in part because the disease is striking people at younger ages, which can mean more time to develop expensive complications. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputations and end-stage kidney disease.
“The study was entirely consistent ... with previous reports that the growth in diabetes is substantial and ever-increasing, and the costs of diabetes also are substantial and ever-increasing,” said Dr. David Kendall, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.