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The Income Penalty For Diabetes: $160,000

A young person with diabetes could earn an average of $160,000 less over their lifetime compared to someone without the disease, according to a study published in the most recent issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Photo by Jill A. Brown via Flickr

Adolescents with diabetes are also more likely to drop out of high school than their peers — a more pronounced difference than seen in racial or gender disparities — and complete .25 fewer years of school, researchers found. That adds up to 150,000 lost years of school across the American population, according to the study, which was based on data gathered from following 15,000 adolescents until age 30.

Jesse M. Fletcher, lead author and associate professor of health policy at the Yale School of Public Health, says the study results are cause for concern at a time when diabetes affects 23 million Americans.  That number is rising as the population grows more obese.

“High school is relatively young to have such large effects,” Fletcher says. And because high school dropouts are more likely to need food stamps and welfare and to spend time in jail, the impact on society is potentially large, he adds.

It’s not clear why kids with diabetes are less likely to finish school. One possibility is they miss school more often because of medical issues. Families may face financial difficulties as they struggle to pay for the high costs of a chronic illness, Fletcher says. He notes that more research should be done on elementary and junior high students to see if early screening and interventions would help them stay in school.

As for people earning less in the workforce, the researchers offer several possible explanations. Fletcher says some employers may be reluctant to hire workers with diabetes or may pay them less to account for higher health care costs — a practice that is illegal if it can be proven. If diabetic workers are absent more frequently, they also may be passed over for promotions. They may also avoid leaving a company to seek better opportunities because they fear losing their health insurance.

Even just having a parent with diabetes reduced a child’s likelihood of going to college and of being employed by the age of 30.

Overall, the United States spends more than $200 billion on diabetes each year, including the cost of health care and lost productivity for those with the illness.

The study is based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which was collected at four points between 1994 and 2008.  The Health Affairs study controlled for a broad set of comorbidities, including obesity and family background, but it did not differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.