‘Alarming’ rise in type 2 diabetes cases in the under-40s sparks calls for action – are you at risk?

DIAGNOSES of type 2 diabetes have risen at an ‘alarming’ rate in people under 40, scientists say.

Poor diets and obesity are largely to blame for the 39 per cent rise, a report suggests.

Blood sugar finger prick testing with portable glucometer.

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Blood sugar finger prick testing with portable glucometer.Credit: Getty

The study, from Diabetes UK, said people face a more aggressive and acute form of diabetes when it develops at a younger age, with thousands of people and children living undiagnosed with the condition across the country.

Authors said “drastic changes” to the food people eat and the environments they live in over the last 25 years are taking their toll.

“We are bombarded by adverts for cheaper, unhealthy food,” they wrote.

“The foods on our shelves are increasingly high in fat, salt and sugar, and rising costs are pushing a healthy diet out of reach for millions.

“These conditions, combined with genetic factors and stark inequalities, are driving rising levels of obesity, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“When type 2 diabetes develops at a younger age, defined here as under 40, it is more acute and aggressive.

“It is also associated with an increased risk of more rapid onset of devastating complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, sight loss and even an early death.”

Cases of type 2 diabetes among all under-40s have risen by more than 47,000 since 2016/17, according to the study.

This amounts to an increase of 39 per cent, compared to a rise of 25 per cent for those over the age of 40.

“We estimate nearly 168,000 people under the age of 40 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the UK, with nearly 150,000 people under 40 diagnosed in England alone.”

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Thousands more are living with the condition undiagnosed, with analysis suggesting half of people aged 16 to 44 with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have it.

The report said the causes of diabetes can be complex, but younger people who are obese have greater risks than older age groups.

Until 25 years ago, type 2 diabetes in children had never been seen in the UK.

But, according to the Diabetes UK study, it is “now rising rapidly”.

It said: “People with type 2 diabetes under 40 are more likely to be living with obesity than those in older age groups. This is especially pronounced in children.

“Eighty one per cent of children registered with type 2 diabetes aged 18 and under are living with obesity and 10 per cent with overweight.”

Study authors also pointed to “gross inequalities” in diabetes rates, as people from the most deprived areas and those from black and South Asian backgrounds were more likely to develop the condition.

When it comes to the impact on work, the report said 43,000 people out of work due to long-term sickness “primarily because of their diabetes, a 79 per cent increase since 2019”.

Diabetes is also listed as a secondary condition for hundreds of thousands more people who are currently unable to work, the study said.

It comes as the of people signed off work through long-term sickness has hit a record of more than 2.8million.

‘A DAMNING INDICTMENT’

Diabetes UK said the number of people living with diabetes in the UK now tops 5.6 million.

It called for the Government to “put the building blocks of health in place for every child and young person, including access to green space, affordable, healthy food, and quality housing”.

It also suggested that restrictions on junk food advertising be introduced and for the sugar tax on soft drinks to be expanded.

Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “Diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in people under 40 are rising to alarming levels.

“It’s a damning indictment of the barriers that many of us face to living a healthy life, where good food is affordable, and exercise isn’t a luxury.

“There is a generational opportunity to stop this crisis in its tracks and we are calling on all political parties to seize it.

“We need bold action to reverse the rising trend in type 2 diabetes, overturn our broken food environment and give every child and young person the best possible chance to grow up in good health.

“The decisions taken now will not only determine the health of young people today, but also the next generation.”

It comes after news that a radical soups and shakes diet that can reverse type 2 diabetes will be rolled out nationwide on the NHS after successful trials.

Ms Marshall said of the programme: “We’re delighted that the programme has already helped thousands of people with weight loss and remission.

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“This expansion means that many more people will benefit.

“Remission from type 2 diabetes can transform health and wellbeing and potentially reduce the risk of serious long term complications.”

How to go into remission from type 2 diabetes

TYPE 2 diabetes remission is when your blood sugar returns to safe, non-diabetes levels long-term, without the need for glucose-lowering medication.

It means that the symptoms of your condition are on pause, as is any new damage it can cause.

According to Diabetes UK, going into remission “boosts your chances of a healthy future”.

It said the key to type 2 diabetes remission is losing weight.

It’s not guaranteed that you’ll go into remission if you do lose weight, but it’s worth trying.

Here are a few ways to achieve this:

  1. Following a low-calorie weight loss programme where you consume 800 to 1200 calories a day –  in England, it is offered by the NHS and is called the Path to Remission Programme
  2. Otherwise you can follow a low-carb or low-fat diet, a meal replacement plan or a Mediterranean diet – but speak to a doctor before making dietary changes to make sure it’s safe
  3. Exercise to lower your blood sugar levels and help maintain weight loss – try taking the stairs instead of lifts, or give swimming, Pilates or dance a go
  4. Consider weight loss surgery – it’s available on the NHS if you have a BMI of 40 or more, or a BMI between 35 and 40 and an obesity-related condition that might improve if you lost weight, such as type 2 diabetes
  5. Speak to your doctor about weight loss drugs

If you’re a healthy weight but have type 2 diabetes, it might be unsafe to lose weight.

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