New figures released by Diabetes UK show that the number of people in the UK living with diabetes has topped five million for the first time. The charity’s chief executive says that the UK is in the grip of a rapidly escalating diabetes crisis. This new analysis provides yet more compelling evidence that obesity – and poor physical health more generally – is a challenge we cannot afford to ignore or tackle in a half-hearted way. As the charity says, it doesn’t have to be this way. A key principle underpinning Life-Based Learning is that we cannot simply carry on as we are when it comes to physical health and wellbeing. Unless we do more to ensure that individuals – including children and young people – adopt healthy lifestyle choices, we will continue to sleepwalk towards disaster.
The figures released last week show that 4.3 million people are now living with a diagnosis of diabetes in the UK. In addition, the charity estimates that there are 850,000 people living with diabetes who are yet to be diagnosed. This brings the overall figure to more than five million. The charity also points out that registration figures for 2021–22 increased by almost 150,000 from 2020–21.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. There are two main types of diabetes:
Around 8% of diagnoses are of type 1 diabetes and around 90% of diagnoses are of type 2 diabetes. People with all types of diabetes can be at risk of developing serious complications. Every week (according to figures in the Diabetes UK press release) diabetes leads to 184 amputations, more than 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and 2,300 cases of heart failure.
The charity is particularly concerned that type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common among those under the age of 40. While numbers of under 40s with type 2 diabetes remain a small proportion of total cases, it is known to have more severe and acute effects on younger people.
There are several risk factors associated with type 2 diabetes. One is overweight. The charity says it is concerned that the high numbers of people living with overweight or obesity across the UK – currently 64% of adults in England – is translating into an increase in cases of type 2. It warns that more than 2.4 million people are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the UK.
Diabetes is also prevalent in areas where there are higher levels of deprivation. “Factors such as income, education, housing, access to healthy food, as well as poorer access to healthcare, have been shown to be strongly linked to an increased risk of developing several health conditions – including obesity and type 2 diabetes,” the charity says.
Diabetes is serious, and every diagnosis is life-changing. It’s a relentless condition, and the fear of serious complications is a lifelong reality for millions of people across the UK.Chris Askew OBE, chief executive of Diabetes UK
These latest figures show we’re in the grip of a rapidly escalating diabetes crisis, with spiralling numbers of people now living with type 2 diabetes and millions at high risk of developing the condition.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right care and support, cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or put into remission. What we need to see is the will, grit and determination from government and local health leaders to halt this crisis in its tracks and improve the future health of our nation for generations to come.
One of the measures that the charity wants to see is the government pushing ahead with its stalled obesity strategy without further delay. The strategy was announced in 2020 but much of it has since been delayed or shelved.
We continue to argue that radical new thinking is need if we are going to prevent a public-health disaster in the decades to come. This is not just about diabetes or about health in the UK. Projected health outcomes across much of the world over the coming decades are shockingly bad. To take just one example, smoking-related diseases – including lung cancer and respiratory and heart disease – will kill one in three young Chinese men by 2050, according to current projections.
Encouraging children and young people – and adults – to take part in regular physical activity is not, on its own, going to magically solve all our health problems. There is a clear link, for example, between health outcomes and economic circumstances. Choosing healthy food options is not always easy – or cheap. Anyone living in cold and damp accommodation is likely to have health problems. Meanwhile, a junk-food culture seems to be, in the words of the restaurateur and food campaigner Henry Dimbleby, “all-pervasive”.
However, regular physical activity does have lots of benefits – especially for children. For example:
Schools have a massive role to play. Life-Based Learning is an approach to education and development for children and young people in which the life challenges that we all face become the focus of a fully rounded, life-based approach to learning. Tackling obesity – and promoting children’s physical health and wellbeing more generally – is one such challenge.
Life-Based Learning priorities children’s physical and mental wellbeing. This includes opportunities for regular sport and physical activity – including the Daily Mile or something similar – and an emphasis on food education and healthy eating.
Image at the head of this article by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay.