The study concludes that direct medical care and treatment for diabetes complications, along with indirect costs like lost productivity, have gone up by nearly a third since 2002.
Most of the medical costs associated with diabetes come from treating complications like eye disease, amputations, and kidney failure, according to the study conducted by the Lewin Group auditing firm. About $27 billion of the $116 billion in direct medical costs in 2007 went to treating diabetes itself.
"The cost most likely dramatically underestimates the true cost," says Ann L. Albright, PhD, ADA's president of health care and education.
The $174 billion figure means that nearly one-tenth of the nation's $2 trillion health budget goes to diabetes care.
More than 21 million Americans are thought to have diabetes. Albright says the report's estimates include roughly 6 million who have the disease but are undiagnosed.
Diabetes results when the body either doesn't produce insulin, produces too little of it, or doesn't respond to the insulin it does produce. Without insulin the body can't metabolize sugar. That can damage blood vessels and lead to a host of cardiovascular and other illnesses.
Ed Gregg, chief of diabetes epidemiology at the CDC, says the results are "not that surprising."
While diabetes patients on average have better glucose control than they did a decade ago, the number of people with diabetes continues to rise. Much of the trend is being driven by widespread obesity.
A 2002 study concluded that moderate exercise, dietary changes, and weight loss can help at-risk adults cut their chances of developing the disease by nearly 60%. The diabetes drug metformin was also effective at reducing diabetes incidence in at-risk adults.
A 7% weight loss, or 14 pounds for a 200-pound person, was enough to significantly cut diabetes risk, says Griffin Rogers, MD, chief of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. "It's not an enormous number."