Diabetes found strongly linked to low incomes

 A Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) report has found that adult Minnesotans living in households earning less than $35,000 per year are nearly two and a half times more likely to have diabetes than Minnesotans living in households with annual incomes more than $35,000.

The diabetes rate for working-age Minnesotans (18 to 64 years old) living in households with incomes less than $35,000 is 12.5 percent, compared to a rate of five percent for working-age Minnesotans living in households with incomes greater than $35,000.

“This research highlights the close links between health, income and financial stability,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “It’s an unhealthy cycle in which low income can contribute to getting diabetes, and having diabetes can limit a person’s earnings and ability to work.”

About one million Minnesota adults live in households with an annual income below $35,000. The research also indicates adults 18 to 64 who have diabetes are more likely to be unable to work than adults who do not have diabetes. About 26 percent of Minnesotans who are unable to work report having diabetes as compared to a diabetes rate of four percent among working-age adults who are employed.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is working to support diabetes prevention efforts and increase access to diabetes prevention programs for low-income Minnesotans. This includes removing coverage limits among providers, such as community health workers, who deliver the National Diabetes Prevention Program.

“These findings demonstrate the critical need to continue working to address healthcare disparities in Minnesota,” said Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper. “We are proud of our recent successes in removing barriers to participation for our enrollees in the National Diabetes Prevention Program, and we will continue to focus on closing the gaps so that all Minnesotans can live healthier lives.”

The MDH data provide a snapshot in time and do not shed light on which comes first, lower income or diabetes. However, this and other studies suggest a complex interplay between poverty and diabetes onset, and illustrate the ways that the disease limits earning power.

The research suggests the following approaches to addressing diabetes in Minnesota:

  • Invest in diabetes prevention strategies ranging from building environments that support healthy eating and physical activity to improving food access and affordability, and offering research-tested programs designed to help people at increased risk for developing diabetes lower their risk.
  • Embrace worksite wellness programs, which could reach up to two of every three working-age adults.
  • Remove cost-related barriers to program participation, such as co-pays, for people with low income.
  • Make connections outside of workplaces; more than 33 percent of adults 18-64 years of age who are living with diabetes are not working.
  • Address broader issues associated with poverty — lack of employment or under employment, housing, food security, health coverage and educational opportunity.  Ensuring equitable access to these resources will contribute to efforts to prevent and better manage diabetes in Minnesota.

“Every day in our work, we see how financial barriers can make it more difficult for people to avoid or manage diabetes,” said Susan Klimek, American Diabetes Association area director for Minnesota and North Dakota. “To help with these challenges, we are focused on advocating for affordable access to screenings, medications and health care, community changes that promote healthy eating and physical activity and efforts that support people in the workplace.”


The research brief can be found on the MDH website at Reports — Income, Employment and Diabetes in Minnesota.

— Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Health