Why is there a sharp rise in diabetes in under-40s?

22 May 2024, 11:41 | Updated: 22 May 2024, 13:15

There has been a 39% rise in cases of diabetes among the under-40s, with thousands more undiagnosed, according to a report by Diabetes UK.

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

Type 2 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body's cells do not react to insulin properly, and lifestyle factors often contribute to its development, according to the NHS.

Diabetes UK's report suggested poor diets and obesity were largely to blame for the increase in cases, arguing that "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."

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The charity pointed out that until 25 years ago, type 2 diabetes in children had never been identified in the UK, but warned 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," it said, adding that 81% of children with type 2 are living with obesity.

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.

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 has also demanded planned restrictions on junk food advertising be introduced and for further work to expand the sugar tax on soft drinks.

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."

Sky News has contacted the Department for Health and Social Care for comment.