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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard and Imperial College London: Cost of Diabetes Hits $825 Billion Dollars a Year

The global cost of diabetes is now 825 billion dollars per year, according to the largest ever study of diabetes levels across the world. The research, which was led by scientists from Imperial College London, and involved Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the World Health Organization, and nearly 500 researchers across the globe, incorporated data from 4.4 million adults in most of the world’s countries. The research team has also created interactive maps and other visuals that show the data for each country, and how they compare to each other.

The study, published April 9 in the journal The Lancet, compared diabetes levels among adult men and women from 1980 to 2014. Diabetes results in a person being unable to regulate levels of sugar in their blood, and increases the risk of heart and kidney disease, vision loss, and amputations.

The team adjusted their results to account for diabetes becoming more common as a person ages and for some countries having older populations. Using age-adjusted figures, they found that in the last 35 years, global diabetes among men has more than doubled — from 4.3 percent in 1980 to 9 percent in 2014 — after adjusting for the effect of aging. Meanwhile diabetes among women has risen from 5 percent in 1980 to 7.9 percent in 2014. This rise translates as 422 million adults in the world with diabetes in 2014 — which has nearly quadrupled since 1980 (108 million).

The study follows previous work by the same Wellcome Trust-funded team that studied global obesity levels and published in The Lancet last week.

The data also revealed that the age-adjusted levels of diabetes in 2014 were lowest in some countries in northwestern Europe, where around 4 percent of women and 6 percent of men have diabetes. The prevalence of diabetes was highest in Polynesia and Micronesia, where more than one in five adults has the condition. Overall, low- and middle-income countries had the largest rise in diabetes levels over the 35-year period.

The team also calculated the annual cost of diabetes — which included the cost of treating and managing the disease and its complications, such as limb amputations. This was calculated in International Dollars. The global cost was 825 billion dollars per year, with the largest cost to individual countries being in China ($170 billion), the US ($105 billion), and India ($73 billion). The authors added that the calculation did not include work days lost due to diabetes, which would make the costs far greater if incorporated.

The study also found that:

The study did not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as this was not included in most of the raw data. At least 85-90 percent of diabetes cases are type 2.

Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the study, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London and an adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said: “This is the first time we have had such a complete global picture about diabetes — and the data reveals the disease has reached levels that can bankrupt some countries’ health systems. The enormous cost of this disease—to both governments and individuals — could otherwise go towards life essentials such as food and education.”

He added that until we find effective ways of addressing the global obesity epidemic, the key to tackling the diabetes crisis is focusing on individuals who are at high risk for the condition.

“We need financially accessible and effective health systems that can highlight those at high risk of diabetes or at pre-diabetes stage. Healthcare staff can then deliver medication and lifestyle advice to delay or even prevent the onset of the condition, as has been done in some countries in western Europe,” Dr. Ezzati said.

Professor Goodarz Danaei, co-lead author of the study and an assistant professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said: “The most important risk factor for diabetes is obesity. Yet global obesity levels are soaring out of control.”

He also added that genetics and fetal and early life conditions may play a role in why some countries seem to have much higher rates of diabetes: “There is increasing evidence that the interaction of genes and the environment plays a role in diabetes. For example, certain genotypes may increase the risk of diabetes especially in people with unhealthy lifestyles. In addition, inadequate nutrition during pregnancy and in early life may increase the risk of diabetes later in life. Therefore, long-term diabetes prevention should address nutrition in every stage of life.”

Read more and see the maps: