01 June 2011

Diabetes may shorten working life

People with diabetes may leave the workforce sooner than employees without diabetes.


People with diabetes may leave the workforce sooner than employees without diabetes, suggesting, according to French researchers, that the 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.

Diabetes complications can lead to mobility problems

For example, she said in an email to Reuters Health, 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.

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.

Results echo earlier study

The findings, reported in Diabetes Care, echo those from a US study, 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 study

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.

The research team matched each of those workers to five diabetes-free co-workers of the same age and in the same type of job.

Overall, diabetics were less likely to still be working in their mid-50s. By age 55, 52% of workers with diabetes were still on the job, versus 66% 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% of diabetic workers were still on the job, compared with 13% of their co-workers.

In addition, by age 60, roughly 5% of diabetics were on disability, compared to about 1% of non-diabetics.

Implication of early retirement

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 US.

"The major implication of our results is that particular attention should be paid to helping people with diabetes to maintain employment," Dray-Spira said. - (Amy Norton/Reuters Health, June 2011)

Read more:
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