Diabetes Rates Spike Among Younger Adults

Findings highlight the need for interventions that target obesity in adults aged 18 to 34.

Results from a new study conducted by the Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) Association indicates that diabetes prevalence is rapidly increasing among adults aged 18 to 34 years.

Included in the new study were claims for more than 40 million Americans insured through BCBS. The authors studied diabetes in terms of health impact, which reflects the prevalence and severity of the disease, in addition to years of life lost due to disability and premature death, according to the insurer.

The new report indicates that diabetes incidence grew 4.7% among younger adults between 2013 and 2015, which was in line with an uptick in obesity, according to BCBS.

Due to the increasingly high rates of obesity, the authors suggest it is likely that younger adults will continue to be burdened by diabetes.

While diabetes rates among younger adults spiked, the rates for older Americans fell by nearly 2%, which may speak to various programs and initiatives implemented in this population.

Diabetes has a significant impact on quality of life and costs for patients, with the condition ranking the third highest out of 200 diseases affecting BCBS members, according to the study.

The investigators found that the health impact of diabetes is especially high when looking at comorbid conditions. BCBS found that 93% of patients with diabetes also have hypertension, 81% have high cholesterol, and 55% have obesity.

Additionally, diabetes accounts for 9.3% of the health impact of more than 200 conditions and was more substantial than the rates of breast cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma combined, according to the study.

The impact was observed to be highest in the Southeast and Central South regions, which was 30% higher compared with New England and the Pacific Northwest, BCBS found. The investigators found that the New York/New Jersey region also had diabetes rates higher than the national average.

The cost for patients with diabetes also varied by region, with no strict correlation to the health impact. For example, the New York/New Jersey area and the Mountain regions had higher than expected costs related to their impact, while the Southwest/California region had lower than expected costs, according to the study.

These findings underscore the burden of diabetes in the United States, especially among younger adults. The report also highlights the need for new strategies to prevent or reverse the impact of obesity and diabetes among this population.

To combat the health impact of diabetes, BCBS health plans have launched programs to manage and prevent the disease through care coordination, nutritional counseling, and behavioral health programs, according to the study.

"This report uniquely quantifies the health impact of diabetes on the longevity and quality of life,” said Trent Haywood, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA. “Despite the impact of diabetes’ continued growth across America, the good news is that this epidemic is preventable. Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country are continuing to provide members with services and tools to proactively prevent diabetes through effective diet and disease management."