NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People with diabetes may leave the workforce sooner than employees without diabetes -- suggesting, French researchers say, that the common disease could be taking a large economic toll.
Among more than 3,000 employees of France’s national gas and electric company, diabetic workers were more likely to retire or go on disability in their 50s than workers of the same age who had similar jobs but no diabetes.
“Diabetes can impact individuals’ ability to maintain employment through different pathways,” said senior researcher Dr. Rosemary Dray-Spira, of the French national research institute INSERM.
For example, she told Reuters Health in an email, diabetes complications such as vision loss and nerve damage can lead to mobility problems or amputations that make it difficult or impossible for people to do their jobs. Diabetes is also often linked with medical conditions, like heart disease or kidney disease.
Then there is obesity, one of the major risk factors for developing diabetes.
Dray-Spira’s team found that obesity seemed to explain much of the higher risk of work disability among people with diabetes.
The findings, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, echo those from a U.S. study that was reported in 2004.
In that study, adults with diabetes were less likely to be working in their 50s than similar adults without the disease. And researchers estimated that between 1992 and 2000, diabetes accounted for $4.4 billion in lost income due to earlier retirement and nearly $32 billion due to work disability.
These latest findings, Dray-Spira’s team writes, underscore the point that diabetes “has major social and economic consequences for patients, employers, and society.”
The results are based on data from a long-term health study of employees at the French national gas and electric company. Between 1989 and 2007, 506 workers developed diabetes.
Dray-Spira’s team compared each of those workers with five diabetes-free co-workers the same age and in the same job type.
Overall, diabetics were less likely to still be working in their mid-50s. By age 55, 52 percent of workers with diabetes were still on the job, versus 66 percent of those without diabetes.
The gap narrowed by the time the workers were 60 years old, the official retirement age in France during the study period. At age 60, 10 percent of diabetic workers were still on the job, compared with 13 percent of their co-workers.
In addition, by age 60, roughly five of every 100 diabetics were on disability, compared to roughly one of every 100 non-diabetics.
Dray-Spira noted that France has both a relatively young retirement age and a universal healthcare system. The impact of diabetes on retirement and disability could be greater, she said, in a country where people typically work longer and lack universal healthcare -- like the U.S.
“The major implication of our results is that particular attention should be paid to help people with diabetes in maintaining employment,” Dray-Spira said.
It’s estimated that almost 26 million U.S. adults have diabetes. Most of them have type 2 diabetes -- the form of the disease closely associated with obesity.
A government study last year projected that up to one-third of the U.S. population could have diabetes by 2050, if Americans continue to avoid exercise, take in too many calories, and gain weight.
SOURCE: bit.ly/muH2DU Diabetes Care, online May 11, 2011.