Type 2 diabetes and young people

Type 2 diabetes

Analysis carried out by Diabetes UK shows that rates of type 2 diabetes in the under-40s are now increasing faster than in the over-40s, with cases up by 23% in the last five years. The charity’s chief executive has described the trend as “incredibly troubling”. The figures suggest that the number of 18–39-year-olds living with the condition could hit 200,000 by 2027. The charity warned in 2018 that the rise in obesity was the main driver of the increase in type 2 diabetes among young people. This new analysis provides further compelling evidence that obesity is a health challenge we cannot afford to ignore or tackle in a half-hearted way.

Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high. There are two main types of diabetes:

  • type 1 – where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin
  • type 2 – where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to insulin

Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that leads to serious complications such as blindness, amputations, heart disease and kidney failure. Although the condition usually develops after the age of 40 in white Europeans or after 25 in people who are African-Caribbean, black African, or south Asian, it is on the increase among children and young people. According to Diabetes UK, its symptoms are much more aggressive in young people than in adults, with a higher overall risk of complications that tend to appear much earlier.

This trend of rapidly-increasing early-onset type 2 diabetes is incredibly troubling. It marks a significant shift from what we’ve seen historically, and should be taken as a serious warning to policymakers and our NHS. If you’re under 40, you’re not immune to type 2 diabetes. It is vital that you check your risk now and that individuals, no matter what their age or background, are given the opportunity to access support to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.

Chris Askew OBE is Chief Executive at Diabetes UK

You can read more here about the Diabetes UK analysis and the campaign they are running in partnership with Tesco to encourage under-40s to find out their type 2 diabetes risk.

There are no lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of type 1 diabetes. However, around 90% of people with diabetes have type 2, which is associated with certain risk factors, including some that can be reduced through lifestyle changes. These risk factors include:

  • smoking
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • alcohol
  • overweight, especially around your middle

It is possible to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes – or manage your diabetes if you have it and even put it into remission – through healthy eating, regular exercise and achieving a healthy body weight.

Life-Based Learning and the obesity challenge

In blogs such as A collective approach to obesity we have argued that radical new thinking is now required if we are going to prevent a public health disaster in the decades to come.

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, and an emphasis on food education and healthy eating.

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The graphic at the head of this article is from the Diabetes UK website.

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