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No Way To Go Through Life
Monday, January 9, 2012 - 5:29pm
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Hey kids. Here’s another good reason to heed First Lady Michele Obama’s advice to get moving and get off the fat track. It will help you get on the fast track.

A new study in Health Affairs says kids who get diabetes are more likely to drop out of high school and college. It also showed people who get diabetes before age 30 earn $160,000 less over the course of their lives than peers who don’t develop the disease. The number one cause of Type II or late onset diabetes, which is coming earlier and earlier these days, is obesity.

The study, led by Jason Fletcher, a professor of health policy at Yale, found that high school dropout rates for teenage diabetics were six percentage points higher than peers without the disease, even after adjusting for parental circumstances like income and educational attainment. Students were up to 13 percent less likely to attend college. Both were larger than the male-female or black-white differences in the general population and were comparable to the education deficit caused by attention deficit disorder.

Moreover, by the time they reached the age of 30, people with diabetes had an average annual income that was $6,000 a year below their peers and they were more likely to be unemployed. “The consequences of diabetes can manifests themselves early in life, with implications for the future of the individual patient and society,” the study team wrote.

Using data compiled by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health at the University of North Carolina, the study followed the health and life outcomes of about 15,000 adolescents from 1994 through 2008. About 2.6 percent developed diabetes, largely because they were obese.

The study authors offered numerous hypotheses for why diabetics might fare poorly in school and work. It might make them less willing to invest in their own careers; employers might be less willing to consider someone who is sick; people might be afraid to change jobs out of fear of losing health insurance. Oddly, they didn’t mention discrimination against fat people, although that certainly must be a factor.

The study recommended policymakers focus public attention on the near-term economic effects of obesity and diabetes, rather than the traditional approach of warning people about the long-term health consequences of diabetes like blindness, lost limbs and malfunctioning organs. “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son,” Dean Wormer told one of the lost boys in the movie Animal House. Now, there’s proof.

spent 25 years as a foreign correspondent, economics writer and investigative business reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other publications. He is the author of the 2004 book, The $800 Million Pill: The Truth Behind the Cost of New Drugs.