The number of adults and older teens with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled over the past 20 years, with 3.7 million people aged 17 or older now known to be living with the disease, campaigners say. A new analysis appears to show that the number of diagnoses has shot up since 1998, at which point it is estimated 1.8 million over 16s were diagnosed with diabetes.
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 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 3.1 million 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%.
Prof Andrew Hattersley of University of Exeter Medical School said 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.
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.