Diabetes epidemic hits the under-40s: Obesity crisis sparks 'public health timebomb' as it emerges one in EIGHT new diabetes cases is a young adult

  • Scientists looked at over 370,800 type 2 diabetics diagnosed in 2000-to-2017
  • One in eight new cases in the UK occurred in someone aged 18-to-40 in 2017
  • This is compared to just one in 10 cases in this younger age group 17 years earlier

Record numbers of young adults are being diagnosed with diabetes because of the obesity epidemic.

One in eight new cases is now in the 18-40 age group, a major study revealed last night.

It found that these patients were significantly more likely to be overweight than those who only develop type 2 diabetes in later life.

They also have higher blood pressure and more ‘bad’ cholesterol, putting them at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. Campaigners demanded government action, saying diabetes was ‘no longer a middle-aged disease’.

Record numbers of young adults are being diagnosed with diabetes because of the obesity epidemic (stock image)

Record numbers of young adults are being diagnosed with diabetes because of the obesity epidemic (stock image)

The study, which examined the health records of more than 370,000 UK patients, was carried out by the University of Leicester and Melbourne University.

It found that the 18-40 age group accounted for 12.5 per cent of the cases of type 2 diabetes diagnosed in 2017. That is almost a third higher than the 9.5 per cent rate in 2000.

Sanjoy Paul, a Melbourne professor, warned that ‘young-onset’ diabetes was especially aggressive and warranted extra medication. He said: ‘I would suggest that young people with type 2 diabetes should be put on statins.

The study, which examined the health records of more than 370,000 UK patients, was carried out by the University of Leicester and Melbourne University (stock image)

The study, which examined the health records of more than 370,000 UK patients, was carried out by the University of Leicester and Melbourne University (stock image)

Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person's blood sugar to get too high

Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person's blood sugar to get too high

‘The message to GPs needs to be that if you see people have very high lipids and high cholesterol you have to do something irrespective of their age.

WHAT IS THE GLOBAL OBESITY CRISIS?

Almost a quarter of the world's population will be obese in less than 30 years, according to research published in May.

If obesity trends continue, 22 per cent of people around the world will be severely overweight by 2045, up from 14 per cent last year, a study found.

One in eight people, rather than today's one in 11, are also expected to develop type 2 diabetes, the research adds.

Lead author Dr Alan Moses, from the Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, said: 'These numbers underline the staggering challenge the world will face in the future in terms of numbers of people who are obese, or have type 2 diabetes, or both.

'As well as the medical challenges these people will face, the costs to countries' health systems will be enormous.'

People with type 2 diabetes have an average life expectancy of just 55 due to them being at a much higher risk of heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease. 

Tam Fry, a health campaigner from the National Obesity Forum said the findings were 'desperately sad'.

‘It is a public health timebomb that is only going to get worse because of rising levels of obesity. The Government needs to take the rise in young-onset type 2 diabetes very seriously as a problem.’

The study found that nearly three quarters of younger adults with type 2 had dangerously high levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. But only 4 per cent of them were on lipid-lowering drugs such as statins.

The research also showed that nearly three quarters of them were obese, compared with fewer than half of those diagnosed with type 2 in their 70s.

And 58 per cent of the under-40s had dangerously high blood sugar levels compared with 34 per cent in the higher age bracket.

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said: ‘Twenty years ago type 2 diabetes used to be considered a disease of the middle-aged. But no longer.

‘Because diagnoses are surging the Government should now implement what the UK’s top paediatricians are recommending: that every child’s body mass index (BMI) is monitored annually for excess weight gain throughout school years.

‘Obesity is a proven indicator of diabetes and every kid at risk of this serious disease must be spotted before it takes hold. Measuring BMI routinely is the most efficient way of doing this.’

NHS data shows that levels of diabetes are at their highest on record. The number of new cases in England and Wales reached 202,665 in 2017 – the equivalent of 23 every hour.

Around 113,000 under-40s have type 2 diabetes in England.

The condition can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes and is more aggressive in younger adults.

NHS data shows that levels of diabetes are at their highest on record. The number of new cases in England and Wales reached 202,665 in 2017 – the equivalent of 23 every hour (stock image)

NHS data shows that levels of diabetes are at their highest on record. The number of new cases in England and Wales reached 202,665 in 2017 – the equivalent of 23 every hour (stock image)

The proportion of type 2 diabetics diagnosed between 18 and 50 rose in the UK from 2000-to-2017. This is compared to older age groups, where rates declined or remained fairly stable

The proportion of type 2 diabetics diagnosed between 18 and 50 rose in the UK from 2000-to-2017. This is compared to older age groups, where rates declined or remained fairly stable

WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?

Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person's blood sugar to get too high.

More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it's in the family.

The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.

Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin. 

Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.

Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.

It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.

Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.

Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.co.uk

Faye Riley of Diabetes UK said: ‘Type 2 diabetes is serious, and this research stresses the particularly dangerous nature of the condition in those diagnosed at a younger age. We already know type 2 is particularly aggressive in younger people, and they are more likely to develop complications and respond poorly to treatment.

‘So with numbers rising, and not enough evidence of which treatments work best for this group, we have to stop this upward trend and the potentially devastating consequences.

‘Although family history and ethnicity play a part, there is a clear link between growing waistlines and the increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in younger people. That’s why we need urgent action to tackle the obesity crisis.’ A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Our commitment to supporting people to stay healthy is clear. Through our world leading childhood obesity plans we are reducing children’s exposure to sugary and fatty foods, getting them moving more in schools and funding councils to find innovative local solutions.

‘Our diabetes prevention programme has also had real success in helping people to lose weight – and 200,000 more people now have access to support and advice to manage their weight.’

Two thirds of adults in England are overweight, including 29 per cent who are clinically obese. There is however growing evidence that type 2 diabetes can be reversed if patients lose significant amounts of weight.

The NHS is carrying out a trial in which patients are given soups and shakes, totalling 850 calories a day, for five months.

The latest study was presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference in Barcelona.

Professor Paul said: ‘The data showed an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age.’

Why factory and cleaning jobs may treble the risk of diabetes 

Workers in manufacturing, driving and cleaning jobs are more likely to get type 2 diabetes, according to a study of almost five million people.

They face a two to threefold increase in risk compared with teachers, physiotherapists and dentists.

Scientists blamed unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as a lack of exercise and smoking, for the ‘striking differences’.

If bosses helped their employees to live healthily, the researchers estimated almost half of type 2 diabetes cases could be avoided.

The study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked at 30 of the most common occupations and covered 4,550,892 Swedes.

Researchers followed up the incidence of diabetes at age 35 or over in participants from 2006 to 2015. They found that 4.2 per cent of the working population had the illness but the rate in men ranged from 8.8 per cent in motor vehicle drivers to 2.5 per cent in computer scientists.

The range for women was from 6.4 per cent in manufacturing to 1.2 per cent among specialist managers. Factory workers had up to 80 per cent more risk of developing diabetes than the general working population.

But male university teachers and female physiotherapists and dentists had a 45 per cent reduced risk.

The study’s authors said: ‘To reduce the future diabetes burden it is crucial to curb the inflow of new patients. If a job title can be used as a risk indicator of type 2 diabetes, it can be used to identify groups for targeted interventions, and hopefully inspire employers to implement prevention programmes tailored to their workforces.’

The researchers also looked into lifestyle habits and found a clear link between diabetes and obesity and lack of exercise.

Dr Katarina Kos, a senior lecturer in diabetes and obesity at the University of Exeter, said: ‘This study shows that certain working environments require an increasing focus in introducing lifestyle change.

‘Increasingly we learn that sedentary jobs with little flexibility to take intermittent breaks are unhealthy in the longer term.’

Emma Elvin, a senior clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, said: ‘The important point to make clear here is that this study does not suggest that doing manufacturing, driving or cleaning jobs directly increase your risk.’

The study will be will be published in the journal Diabetologia.

Number of young adults with type 2 diabetes is on the rise

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