Registered nurse Susan Eager (R) teaches a diabetic patient how to draw her own insulin injections.
Registered nurse Susan Eager (R) teaches a diabetic patient how to draw her own insulin injections. - 
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This country has a weight problem, which has created a disease problem. Namely, diabetes. And that, in turn, has created an economic problem. A new study by the American Diabetes Association says the disease cost the economy an estimated $245 billion last year, a 41 percent increase since 2007.

And that big jump spending can’t be blamed on runaway medical costs. In fact, the cost of treating diabetes is actually rising slower than health care inflation in general. The big increase is the number of folks with the disease; five million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in the last five years.

“This is the heart of the health care crisis in terms of expenditures,” says Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Diabetes Association.

His study found that one of every five health care dollars in the U.S. goes to treating diabetics.

“Individuals with diabetes are recommended to see a physician four times per year. They are on average taking anywhere from three to nine medications per day,” says Ratner.

Taxpayers pick up some of those costs.

“Already, one in three Medicare dollars is spent on people with diabetes. It’s an enormous cost to our health care system and to our economy,” says Cynthia Rice with Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International.

Treating the disease is big business for drug-makers.

“Two of the top 20 drugs sold in the country are drugs that treat diabetes,” says Ira Loss, executive vice president of Washington Analysis, a federal policy research group.

According to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News, a diabetes drug called Januvia, for instance, saw its sales jump 22 percent year to year. Lantus, another huge seller, was up almost 20 percent over the year before.

But diabetes also exacts high a high price in terms of absenteeism, reduced productivity and unemployment due to disability. According to the American Diabetes Association, that cost the economy $69 billion last year.

What can be done?

Robert Ratner believes the key to reducing diabetes is reducing obesity.

“Clearly we have a food industry that is out to sell food that people want to eat, not necessarily looking at the health qualities of those foods,” says Ratner.

Americans are attracted to restaurants that offer big portions because we’re looking for value. But to save money in the long run, it’s better to minimize, rather than Super-Size.

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Follow Jeff Tyler at @JeffMarketplace