Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Wednesday June 12, 2024
Wednesday June 12, 2024

Sharp rise in type 2 diabetes among under-40s in UK sparks health concerns



Obesity, junk food, and health inequalities drive a 39% increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses in six years

The number of people under 40 diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the UK has surged by 39% over the past six years. This alarming rise, driven by increasing obesity levels, cheap junk food, and health inequalities, highlights a growing public health crisis. Britain, with one of the highest obesity rates in Europe, sees two-thirds of adults classified as overweight or obese. The NHS spends £6 billion annually on obesity-related illnesses, a figure projected to climb to £10 billion by 2050.

New data from Diabetes UK reveals that nearly 168,000 individuals under 40 now have type 2 diabetes, up from 120,000 in 2016/17. This increase is significantly higher compared to a 25% rise among those over 40 during the same period. The sharp rise in younger age groups underscores the urgent need for comprehensive measures to combat obesity and promote healthier lifestyles.

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This surge in diagnoses comes amid criticism of government inaction. The Guardian recently reported that ministers had been warned of the risk to children and young people due to postponed anti-obesity policies. Key measures from the 2020 national food strategy, intended to combat junk food consumption, have been delayed or abandoned, exacerbating the health crisis.

Diabetes UK’s Chief Executive, Colette Marshall, described the trend as “alarming” and urged immediate governmental action. She emphasized the impact of environmental and dietary changes over the last 25 years, including the prevalence of cheap, unhealthy food high in fat, salt, and sugar. Rising living costs further limit access to healthy diets, disproportionately affecting those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, condemned the government’s handling of the issue, calling the increase in type 2 diabetes cases “an outrage.” He criticized the Conservative government for repeatedly postponing measures aimed at reducing junk food advertising and promoting healthier food choices. Streeting promised that a Labour government would implement stricter regulations on junk food ads targeting children.

The report highlights the severe health implications of early-onset type 2 diabetes, including a higher risk of complications like heart disease, kidney disease, and early mortality. The authors estimate that nearly 168,000 people under 40 in the UK have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, with a significant number likely undiagnosed. Analysis suggests that half of the 16 to 44 age group with the condition are unaware of their diagnosis.

Gross health inequalities exacerbate the situation, with people from deprived areas and those of black and South Asian backgrounds more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. The economic impact is also substantial, with 43,000 people out of work due to diabetes-related long-term sickness, a 79% increase since 2019. Diabetes is frequently cited as a secondary condition preventing many more from working.

The Guardian’s December report detailed how ultra-processed foods have become normalized in children’s diets, with vulnerable groups particularly affected. The government’s postponement of anti-obesity policies, such as the 9pm junk-food advertising watershed and bans on unhealthy promotions, until October 2025, faces significant criticism.

In response, the government claims it remains committed to tackling obesity and type 2 diabetes. Health Minister Andrew Stephenson cited a £200 million investment in diabetes research since 2019, efforts to reduce sugar in foods, and the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling on menus. The NHS has also expanded its soups and shakes programme to aid thousands more in managing and potentially reversing type 2 diabetes.

Despite these measures, Colette Marshall from Diabetes UK insists on more robust action. She calls for a generational effort to address the root causes of the diabetes crisis, advocating for access to green spaces, affordable healthy food, and quality housing for all. The report underscores the need for political will to reverse the rising trend in type 2 diabetes and create a healthier future for young people.


The dramatic increase in type 2 diabetes among people under 40 in the UK reflects a complex interplay of social, economic, and environmental factors. The rise in obesity, driven by poor dietary habits and lack of physical activity, underpins the growing number of diabetes cases. The prevalence of cheap, calorie-dense, and nutrient-poor food options plays a significant role in this health crisis.

Politically, the government’s delay in implementing anti-obesity policies reveals a reluctance to confront powerful food industry lobbies. The postponed measures, such as restrictions on junk food advertising, indicate a gap between public health priorities and political action. This delay has drawn criticism from opposition parties, health advocates, and the public, demanding more decisive government intervention.

From a sociological perspective, the diabetes epidemic highlights deep-seated health inequalities. Individuals from deprived communities and certain ethnic backgrounds face higher risks due to a combination of genetic predisposition, socio-economic barriers, and limited access to healthy lifestyle options. Addressing these inequalities requires comprehensive policies that go beyond healthcare to include social determinants of health.

Economically, the burden of type 2 diabetes on the NHS and the broader economy is substantial. The increasing cost of managing diabetes-related complications strains healthcare resources. Additionally, the loss of productivity due to diabetes-related sickness underscores the need for preventive measures. Investing in public health initiatives that promote healthy eating and active living could alleviate long-term economic pressures.

Locally, the rise in type 2 diabetes cases calls for targeted interventions in communities most affected. Public health campaigns, community-based programs, and local policy changes can make healthy food and physical activity more accessible. Engaging local stakeholders, including schools, businesses, and health services, is crucial for sustainable impact.

Gender considerations reveal that type 2 diabetes can affect men and women differently, with potential variations in diagnosis, management, and outcomes. Tailored approaches that consider gender-specific needs and challenges are essential for effective diabetes prevention and care.

In summary, the sharp rise in type 2 diabetes among under-40s in the UK signals an urgent public health challenge. Addressing this crisis requires coordinated efforts across political, economic, and social domains. By prioritizing preventive measures, promoting healthy environments, and reducing inequalities, the UK can work towards reversing this troubling trend and ensuring a healthier future for all.


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