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Health Team

Type 2 diabetes affects nearly 7,000 young people in the UK

Posted November 22, 2018 9:16 a.m. EST

— Type 2 diabetes usually develops in adults, but a recent analysis has found a startling uptick among the under-25s. A rise in obesity is believed to be the main driver behind the rise.

The new figures show 6,836 people under the age of 25 in England and Wales were reported to have the chronic condition in 2016-17, based on numbers treated in pediatric hospital units and primary care practices.

Type 2 diabetes is much more aggressive in children and young people than in adults, according to the charity Diabetes UK, which released the data Thursday, leading to a higher risk of complications, such as amputations, sight loss, stroke and kidney failure.

The bulk of the cases were young people in puberty or just after puberty, Libby Dowling, Diabetes UK's senior clinical advisor, told CNN.

The disease occurs when the body fails to produce enough insulin or the cells do not use insulin properly. It is linked to older age, obesity, family history and ethnic background. According to Diabetes UK, more than 3.6 million people in the UK have diabetes -- about 5% of the population.

It usually develops over the age of 40 in white Europeans or after 25 in people who are African-Caribbean, black or South Asian, according to Diabetes UK.

While Type 2 diabetes does occur among children and adolescents, cases are still rare. But it is being diagnosed more frequently, current data suggest. Being overweight or obese significantly increases the risk of developing the condition.

"All the children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are overweight and obese," Dowling said. "That is not whole story, there are other risks like family history and they are more likely to come from black or South Asian backgrounds, where the risk is higher," Dowling added.

The charity warns that more than a third of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, meaning thousands more could be diagnosed with Type 2 in the next few years.

"And a lot of children diagnosed with Type 2 have other health problems too, like high blood pressure and the beginnings of liver problems -- that is a concern," Dowling said.

Diabetes UK is calling on the British government to ban junk food advertising on television before 9 pm and restrict supermarket price promotions for unhealthy foods -- measures that were laid out in the government's 2016 childhood obesity plan.

It is also calling for the country's health service to improve care services and provide appropriate support for children and young people.

"In recent decades, countries such as the US and UK have seen large increases in the number of people with Type 2 diabetes," Azeem Majeed, professor and head of the primary care and public health department at Imperial College London, told CNN in a statement. "Most of these cases have been among older people but we are now also seeing an increasing number of cases of Type 2 diabetes among younger people."

"Reversing the increase in Type 2 diabetes is not easy," he added. "It requires action by individuals, and also by governments and societies."

Worldwide, the number of people living with all types of diabetes has quadrupled since 1980, to around 422 million, according to the World Health Organization.

In the US, 30.3 million people have diabetes, about 9.4% of the population. Of this number, 7.2 million are undiagnosed.