Unhealthy eating blamed for big rise in cases of serious condition in young people

By Staff 8 Min Read

The study 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

There has been a 39 per cent rise in cases of diabetes among the under-40s, with poor diets and obesity largely to blame, a report suggests.

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

“We are bombarded by adverts for cheaper, unhealthy food,” it said. “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.”

The report’s authors said cases of type 2 among all under-40s have risen by more than 47,000 since 2016/17, an increase of 39 per cent, compared to a rise of 25 per cent for those over 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.”

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 identified in the UK, but it is “now rising rapidly”. The study 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% with overweight.”

The study also points to “gross inequalities”, with people from the most deprived areas and those from black and South Asian backgrounds more likely to develop diabetes. 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. Diabetes UK said the number of people living with diabetes in the UK now tops 5.6 million. It is calling 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 called for planned restrictions on junk food advertising to be introduced and for further work to expand the sugar tax on soft drinks. 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.”

A spokesman for NHS England said: “Obesity leads to a range of serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, so it’s concerning but not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in the condition as obesity levels rise.

“The NHS has invested significantly in services to help people prevent, manage and, in some cases, reverse type 2 diabetes, including specific support for people under the age of 40 but it is clear that reversing this trend requires concerted action across industry, government and society to tackle obesity.”

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