European Union

Health: the high cost of diabetes


24/04/2012 - Across OECD countries some 83 million people suffer from diabetes. On current trends, that will rise to almost 100 million by 2030.


Speaking at the European Diabetes Leadership Forum in Copenhagen, OECD Deputy Director General Yves Leterme said, “Preventing and treating diabetes and its complications costs about €90 billion annually in Europe alone.  With health budgets already under great pressure and national budgets severely strained, for the sake of our health and the health of our economies we must find ways to prevent and manage diabetes in a cost-effective manner.”


Like other chronic diseases, diabetes reduces employment opportunities and earnings. In addition, diabetics are prone to depression, making it difficult to follow treatment guidelines.

In the coming 10 years, more than two out of three people will be overweight or obese in some OECD countries. This has an impact on both their salaries and their health - across OECD countries, obese people earn up to 18% less than non-obese people. And they are 8 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This jumps to 60 times more likely for the severely obese.

Prevalence of diabetes in 2010, adults 20-79 years

Source: IDF (2009), OECD Health at a Glance 2011

As with many diseases, prevention strategies to tackle obesity – promoting healthy nutrition and exercise - are more cost-effective than the treatment routinely provided by health services. Governments must work with the food and beverage industry, medical practices, schools and community groups to promote healthy life-styles.  Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary have already passed legislation taxing foods rich in fat and sugar.


OECD research shows that chronic diseases such as diabetes can be managed more efficiently through: 

  • Programmes to encourage patients to control their conditions – some have shown positive results.
  • Payment systems and diseases management programmes rewarding good outcomes and continuity of care. These have been introduced with some success in the Netherlands, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
  • Placing community care at the centre of health systems to improve quality of diabetes care. Austria and Hungary admit double the OECD average of diabetics to hospital. In Finland, Sweden and Denmark, men are more likely to be admitted than women.


The European Diabetes Leadership Forum gathers 800 participants from governments, the private sector, and consumer organisations across Europe to discuss workable solutions to address care for non communicable diseases such as diabetes. Participants are agreeing to the Copenhagen Roadmap, an outcome document offering concrete suggestions for good practice in the management of chronic diseases.


>> For more information on the OECD’s work on chronic diseases, including diabetes, please contact Helen Fisher: [email protected]  (+33 1 45 24 80 97) or Francesca Colombo in the OECD’s Health Division: [email protected]  (+33 1 45 24 93 60). 


>> A background document is also available here.


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