What the rise in diabetes and obesity among younger employees means for employers

A rapid increase in the prevalence of diabetes and obesity cases among younger Americans has repercussions for employers. Here’s how employers can help.

A 2023 study revealed increases in the prevalence of diabetes and obesity among U.S. adults ages 20 to 44.That number is only expected to continue on its upward climb, with a projection of a 700% increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses, for instance, by 2060.2 This age group, which spans multiple generations — Millennials and Gen Z — makes up 45% of today’s workforce,3 and they are far exceeding the older Generation X in health care utilization for these chronic conditions.4

With medical costs in the U.S. reaching $327B annually for diabetes and $173B for obesity, the costs associated with addressing these chronic diseases are substantial for employers.5

While obesity and diabetes are on the rise among younger employees, fortunately there are ways employers may be able to help prevent or mitigate the diseases in their workforces. By implementing strategies tailored to the health care experience preferred by this age group, employers can better manage these conditions, which may result in better outcomes and lower costs.

“The onset of chronic conditions like diabetes or obesity is becoming more prevalent in the Millennial population. We’re seeing a corresponding spike in health care costs as this generation tends to access health care through the ER and urgent care facilities, rather than starting with a primary care physician. Employers can help manage these costs with programs designed to help guide employees to the proper care channels.”

— Craig Kurtzweil, Chief Analytics Officer, UnitedHealthcare Employer & Individual

Diabetes and obesity at a glance


  • 41.9% of people in the U.S. are obese5
  • $173B in medical costs5
  • $1,861 higher medical costs annually than people at a healthy weight5
  • $4.8B annually in lost productivity and absenteeism6
  • Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer5


  • 133M people in U.S. are diabetic or prediabetic7
  • 8th leading cause of death in U.S.7
  • 90% of cases are for type 2 diabetes7
  • 700% increase in type 2 diabetes and 65% increase in type 1 diagnoses expected by 20602
  • $327B annual medical costs7
  • 2x higher medical costs than those without diabetes7

Encouraging employee engagement

Diabetes and obesity are interconnected chronic conditions. In fact, these 2 conditions present together so often that the term “diabesity” has been used to describe the health effects of both conditions. This is partly because someone who is obese is 6 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.To keep obesity in check — and to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes — employees can make lifestyle changes to lose weight, such as eating healthier and becoming more physically active.9  Losing as little as 5% or 10% of overall body weight can greatly improve the effects of type 2 diabetes.This is where employers can make a difference. Employee engagement strategies aim to help empower and motivate employees to live healthier lives and take ownership over their health and related health care costs.

Employers can support employees as they build healthier lifestyles through programs like weight loss program Real Appeal® or UnitedHealthcare Rewards, which financially incents participating employees for committing to and achieving health goals. This reward program goes a step further by providing multiple engagement options to meet employees where they are, such as being accessible via the UnitedHealthcare® app for convenient, on-the-go access, which is especially important among younger generations.

Programs like these are gaining in popularity, as 77% of employers agree that workplace wellness and well-being programs are an important part of their benefits strategy, compared to only 33% in the previous decade.10 Employers are also seeing a difference in their bottom lines. For instance, employers that offer Real Appeal saw 12% lower medical costs over 3 years.11

Selecting the right health plan design

Some employers are able to offer a health plan designed to specifically address the needs of those who may be at risk or dealing with these chronic conditions.

For instance, plans like the UnitedHealthcare Level2® Health Plan and Diabetes Health Plan can help employees manage their diabetes diagnosis and reduce the financial impact of diabetes for them and their employer.

Employees enrolled in the Level2 Health Plan, for instance, can earn 100% coverage on common costs associated with type 2 diabetes such as medications and supplies, primary care physician visits to UnitedHealth Premium Care physicians and lab work. And employers are guaranteed savings of up to 6% over 3 years.12 Employees can also gain access to insights, tools, expert support and clinical care under this health plan.

The Diabetes Health Plan gives employees access to coaching from a disease management nurse, low copays for office visits, and medications and tools and resources to help manage their condition.

Investing in clinical management strategies

There are also clinical programs available that may help employees manage their treatment and more easily navigate the health care system. This is especially important among these younger employees, as they tend to be new to using or are unfamiliar with the full range of their benefits.

The integration of targeted clinical programs that offer personalized support and guidance may help mitigate the impact of these conditions, address the underlying challenges and barriers that put members at higher risk and reduce employers’ medical costs.

Some of these programs include UnitedHealthcare Advocacy solutions and its Personal Health Support program, which connect employees to advocates who can support them along their journey and help direct them when more cost-effective care options are available.

Diabetes and obesity can be complex conditions and managing them can be just as complicated in a fragmented health care system. Supporting employees new to heath care through the process and helping to guide them to care may help improve their experience and minimize the impact on employers’ bottom line.


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