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Government and NHS must act to reduce type 2 diabetes in young people

Government and NHS must act to reduce type 2 diabetes in young people

A report produced by Diabetes UK designed to tackle the ‘alarming rise’ in cases of type 2 diabetes amongst young people should be a ‘wake-up call’ for policymakers, the charity says.

Reverse the Trend—Reducing type 2 diabetes in young people, was published to coincide with Diabetes Prevention Week 2024 and reveals a 40 per cent rise in type 2 diabetes diagnoses in younger people between 2016-17 and 2022-23.

The charity warns that environments and living conditions are causing increasing damage to the health of younger generations and is calling on the Government and healthcare professionals to take action to reverse the situation.

Recommendations include instilling healthy habits from a young age, improving the food environment, and increasing investment in long-term support for those most at risk of diabetes.

Historically, type 2 diabetes has been associated with older people, but in recent years, cases in the UK have been rising at a faster rate in younger generations. Today, almost 168,000 people under 40 live with type 2 diabetes, an increase of more than 47,000 since 2016-17.

The impact is felt most strongly in low-income areas and by people from Black and South Asian backgrounds. Children from the most deprived areas are more than five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those in the least deprived areas. Those who go on to develop the condition at a younger age face a reduced life expectancy and the earlier development of diabetic complications such as heart failure, amputations, heart attacks and strokes.

To reverse the trend, Diabetes UK suggests that a ‘two-pronged approach’ is necessary. The recommendations made in the report aim to reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and improve support so that people can ‘live well’ with the condition.

The charity notes the ‘stark’ association between poverty and type 2 diabetes and is calling on the Government to ‘put the building blocks of health in place for every child’, including providing all young people with access to green space, affordable, healthy food, and quality housing.

In addition, the report calls for ‘ambitious government action’ to improve our food environment. They would like to see delayed restrictions on junk food advertising and an expansion of the success of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, also known as the sugar tax, to tackle obesity and the associated cases of type 2 diabetes.

Within the health service, the report suggests that there should be greater support for young people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes to improve health outcomes and reduce inequalities. They recommend highly targeted campaigns for those at high risk in younger generations and the introduction of a pilot study to assess the benefits of an NHS healthcare check for people aged 25 who are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including Black and Asian people.

Raising awareness of the levels of diabetes in young people, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, amongst healthcare workers should also be a priority, the charity says. Misconceptions about diabetes mean that clinicians do not always recognise the signs of diabetes in young adults. Once diagnosed, there is also a need to support young people to stay well. Programmes such as the T2day: Type 2 diabetes in the young, a £14.5 m NHS England which started in 2023, are welcomed, however, the charity notes that high-risk groups need to be targeted and the funding should be longer term.

Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: ‘Diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in people under 40 are rising to alarming levels. It’s a damning indictment of the barriers that many of us face to living a healthy life, where good food is affordable, and exercise isn’t a luxury.’

She added: ‘There is a generational opportunity to stop this crisis in its tracks, and we are calling on all political parties to seize it. We need bold action to reverse the rising trend in type 2 diabetes, overturn our broken food environment and give every child and young person the best possible chance to grow up in good health. The decisions taken now will not only determine the health of young people today but also the next generation.’

Diabetes UK also offers several free online tools, such as  Know Your Risk, which advises people on the level of risk they face and suggests next steps to help reduce their risk. For healthcare workers, NHS England has developed a new e-learning programme about managing type 2 diabetes in children and young people, available via the NHS Learning Hub.


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