Project Talent Blog

Type II Diabetes is a Public Health & Economic Catastrophe: What Project Talent Tells Us About the Origins of the Crisis

Courtesy of the America Diabetes Association

Type II Diabetes (T2D) is a chronic condition that can lead to a host of serious health problems including heart disease, nerve, kidney and eye damage, and Alzheimer’s disease. T2D increased by a staggering 40% between 2002 and 2014 and is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, affecting more that 30 million Americans. The economic impact of T2D is also profound, accounting for more than $240 billion in medical costs and lost work wages. Curbing the onset of Type II diabetes is now a national priority and major resources have been dedicated to understanding the underlying causes of the epidemic and developing effective interventions. However, interventions that focus on changing behaviors of diabetes patients or those at high risk of developing the condition–such as increasing physical activity or improving diet–have done little to curb the epidemic.

A new study links Project Talent data, collected from participants when they were teenagers, with Medicare claims data to explore the association between income inequality experienced early in life and the onset of T2D. While previous studies have identified the connection between low socioeconomic status and poor health outcomes, including the onset of T2D, the Project Talent diabetes study makes a surprising observation: Students who considered themselves to be poor were at an increased of developing T2D later in life compared to their peers of similar economic status. Perceiving oneself as poor was particularly detrimental for students who were also objectively poor. These findings suggest that the stress of feeling economically vulnerable could be as detrimental to health as actual poverty. Given the rapidly increasing wealth disparities in the United States and elsewhere, these findings are timely and important.

The Project Talent diabetes study suggests that existing behavior-based policies may be ineffective because they are too late and limited in scope. Addressing the anxiety associated with real and perceived economic insecurity in youth and adolescence could be key to improving future health outcomes. Interventions that lesson the conspicuousness of income disparities in schools, such as school uniforms and free school lunches for all, are examples of ways to alleviate the stress of income inequality in early life, as is expanding the social safety net. Read the full study here.

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February 26, 2018

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