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'Alarming' Acceleration of Type 2 Diabetes in Under-40s

Many people aged under-40 years are unaware of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes with the number of cases of the condition in this age group increasing at an 'alarming' rate, warned a leading diabetes charity.

As "shocking" new figures revealed an "alarming acceleration" of diagnoses in younger age groups across the UK, Diabetes UK has urged more people to check their risk of type 2 diabetes using the 'Know Your Risk' tool.

Developed by Diabetes UK, the University of Leicester, and the University Hospital of Leicester NHS Trust, the free online tool is designed for people without a current diagnosis of diabetes and is intended to highlight a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years. The charity pointed out that the tool is not a diagnostic tool, that the results are not medical advice, and if someone is at risk or concerned about diabetes then they should seek medical advice.

Rapidly-Increasing Trend Incredibly Troubling

A new analysis of NHS data carried out by Diabetes UK, in partnership with Tesco, has shown that cases of type 2 diabetes - which the authors said was "historically associated with older people" - are now rising at a faster rate among those under 40 than in those over 40.

"There are now 148,000 people under 40 registered with type 2 diabetes in the UK, and this figure has increased by 23% in 5 years, compared to a 17% rise in all registrations," the charity highlighted. If left unaddressed, the charity predicted that the number of people in the UK aged 18-39 living with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes could "hit 200,000 by 2027".  

Chris Askew OBE, Diabetes UK chief executive, warned: "This trend of rapidly-increasing early-onset type 2 diabetes is incredibly troubling. It marks a shift from what we’ve seen historically and should be taken as a serious warning to policymakers and our NHS."

Type 2 diabetes has until recently been quite rare in those aged under 40, "so many people – including healthcare professionals – don't always recognise the symptoms", highlighted the authors. While numbers of under 40s with type 2 diabetes remained a small proportion of total cases, the condition is known to have more severe and acute consequences in people under 40, the charity pointed out.

For the new research, UK-wide data was collected from 2137 people aged 18-39 year, excluding those currently living with any type of diabetes, between September 29-30, 2022.

The researchers found that around 2 out of 3 (68%) didn't know how to check if they were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, with almost two-thirds (65%) either not knowing, or not sure, what the symptoms of type 2 diabetes were.

Only 1 in 3 (35%) were aware that amputations were a possible complication of type 2 diabetes, with only 30% and 26% of those surveyed being aware that other possible complications were stroke and depression, respectively.

Cost of Living Impact

The research also shed light on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. More than half of people (57%) said they had "deprioritised" their health as a direct result of the current crisis, with nearly one quarter (23%)saying they had "avoided or put off" medical checks.  

"Social deprivation is also an issue," said Diabetes UK. It highlighted how 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 obesity and type 2 diabetes. "As a result, people who are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes are all-too-often less likely to be able to benefit from support to manage it," the charity explained.   

Ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14, Diabetes UK and Tesco have launched a campaign to drive a million people to better understand their individual risk of type 2 diabetes by using the ‘Know Your Risk’ tool, or by visiting their local Tesco pharmacy. Anyone who completes an assessment using the tool will be directed to free advice and information on the help and support available to manage their risk.   

"If you’re under 40, you're not immune to type 2 diabetes," said Mr Askew. "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."

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