An estimated 30.3 million Americans have diabetes. The emotional and physical toil for those suffering from the disease is large, as are the associated medical bills: In 2012, the cost for caring for Americans with diabetes was $245 billion.
A new report from Blue Cross Blue Shield ranks the disease behind only mood disorders and hypertension as having the largest negative impact on commercially insured Americans’ health.
It also found that diabetes’ impact, which measures prevalence and severity of the condition as well as the risk of premature death, is growing at the fastest clip for millennials, defined as those between 18 to 34 years of age.
The worrying trend coincides with rising rates of obesity among the demographic. Nearly 90% of people diagnosed with diabetes are overweight or obese. Between 2001 and 2015, teenage rates of obesity rose over 30%, according to the CDC.
"Despite the impact of diabetes' continued growth across America, the good news is that this epidemic is preventable,” Dr. Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said in a statement.
Type 2 diabetes was once thought to be largely irreversible, but today many doctors believe it can be managed—in some cases, reversed—through lifestyle changes and moderate weight loss. By losing as little as 5% of their body weight, participants in several studies were able to transition off medication to manage the condition.
A number of startups have launched to help people manage and/or reverse their diabetes by changing their diet and exercise routines. Virta Health, Glooko, and Omada Health have all raised venture capital to build technology platforms to this effect.
For millennials, a demographic endlessly lauded and derided for being the first generation to grow up with Internet, this could be encouraging news. Whereas many of their need to be taught to interact with a diabetes management app, they’re digital natives.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether a technology-based approach is enough to curb the tide. But as diabetes management goes digital, familiarity with a smartphone doesn't hurt.