The number of adults and older teens with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled over the past 20 years, with 3.7m people aged 17 or older now known to be living with the disease, campaigners say. The Guardian reports that an analysis, compiled by the charity Diabetes UK, appears to show that the number of diagnoses has shot up since 1998, at which point it is estimated 1.8m over 16s were diagnosed with diabetes.
The analysis does not break down figures into the two main forms of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. But Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, said that other research had shown diagnoses of both have increased, but the rise has been greater for type 2. “(The) rise in obesity has driven that largely over recent years,” she said.
The report says while both types of diabetes are linked to genetics, type 1 diabetes is not associated with weight but is an autoimmune condition where insulin is not produced. It normally begins in childhood and accounts for about 10% of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes – where little insulin is produced, or insulin does not trigger an uptake of glucose by the body’s cells – is linked to obesity, and typically starts later in life, with about 60% of cases thought to be preventable.
Both types bring with them the risk of complications such as blindness, stroke, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure and amputations.
The report says the new figures have been drawn from a number of datasets that have been analysed to provide national estimates of diabetes diagnoses in those aged 17 or over. The findings show that in England alone almost 6.7% of the population have been diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 3.1m people living with the condition.
But there are large variations around the country. Bradford, Harrow, and Sandwell and West Birmingham show the highest prevalences at 10.43%, 9.40% and 9.14% of the population respectively, while Richmond has a prevalence of only 3.63%, and Camden and central London just over 4%.
Diabetes UK says that the number of people with diabetes is likely to be even higher than the latest data suggests, with estimates indicating almost a million people in the UK have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Further analysis by the team based on figures relating to obesity and waist circumference also reveals that there are about 12.3m people in the UK at risk of type 2 diabetes but who do not yet have the condition.
Joule said that greater efforts are needed to help people make healthy choices to lower their risk of type 2 diabetes. “We welcome the levy on sugary drinks that is coming in in April and the work Public Health England are doing, working with industry to reduce the sugar content of food and drinks – particularly those consumed by children – but we think that it needs to go much further,” said Joule, adding that Diabetes UK is among those calling for better labelling of food, restrictions on supermarket promotions of unhealthy products and a 9pm watershed for junk food advertisements on TV.
But Professor Andrew Hattersley of University of Exeter Medical School said in the report that the rise in diagnoses was largely down to individuals living longer, and better care of those with the disease – including in managing blood pressure and cholesterol. “This data is actually good news,” he said. “The increase in numbers reflects improved treatment of patients more than it reflects increasing obesity,” Hattersley added, noting the figures highlight the need for increasing provision of good care for people with the condition.
The report says Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow also stressed that a number of trends were at play. “The good aspect is as life expectancy goes up, more people are able to develop diabetes in later life, when it is less of a concern, and equally we are keeping people alive with diabetes for longer due to better care,” he said. “However, this does create more work as more people are living with diabetes complications so (there is) more suffering. The other bad aspect is more, younger people under the age of 40 are developing diabetes due to rising obesity levels, and it is here we need to be really concerned.”
Sattar added that younger onset type 2 diabetes is far more harmful to the body and substantially increases chances of a premature death. “It is also much harder to manage, and anything the government can do to lessen the obesogenic environment will have direct benefits to slowing this worrying trend,” he said.