Type 2 diabetes is a preventable condition and has historically only been diagnosed in those over age 40 years. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can no longer rely on its own insulin production to regulate rising glucose levels in the blood, causing excessive thirst and tiredness. In the latest 2019-20 National Diabetes Audit published by the UK National Health Service (NHS), 1,560 young people ages 18 years or under in England were reported to have type 2 diabetes. This figure is highly concerning as 80% of these young people were registered as obese, as opposed to only 60% of those in the higher-risk age groups of 40 years and older. With the alarming levels of type 2 diabetes-related childhood obesity, GlobalData epidemiologists predict that the diagnosed prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes in those ages 19 years and under in the UK will likely continue to increase over the next five to ten years.
According to GlobalData epidemiologists, type 2 diabetes in ages 19 years and under is expected to increase from roughly 3,400 cases in 2021 to 4,200 cases in 2028 (as shown in Figure 1). However, if obesity continues to remain high in these younger age groups, diagnosed prevalent cases of type 2 diabetes will likely surpass the current forecast estimates. When type 2 diabetes develops in childhood and early adulthood, the individual will likely experience more severe consequences and medical complications later in life, especially if they have inadequate access to health facilities and specialist treatment. If left untreated, it can result in serious complications such as heart disease and kidney failure. However, with the correct medication and diet, this chronic condition is manageable.
The uptick of childhood obesity and overweight is recognised as the main driver behind the rise in type 2 diabetes in young people. Excessive fatty tissue around the abdomen reduces their bodies’ resistance to insulin. The National Institute for Health Research states that obese children have approximately four times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those of healthy weight. The Local Government Association (LGA) in the UK has called for more funding towards councils’ public health budgets for healthy school initiatives, community sports/leisure facilities and weight management services to lessen the risk of childhood obesity. This is a step in the right direction that will encourage children and young adults to eat balanced meals and regular exercise to help maintain a healthy weight.
The rise of childhood type 2 diabetes is an alarming sign on the healthcare landscape. It is promising to see commitments being made towards prevention schemes such as those proposed by the LGA.