Figures underline growing prevalence of conditions related to obesity in younger demographic, says head of Diabetes UK
The number of people under 40 in the UK being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is rising at a faster pace than the over-40s, according to “shocking” and “incredibly troubling” data that experts say exposes the impact of soaring obesity levels.
The UK ranks among the worst in Europe with the most overweight and obese adults, according to the World Health Organization. On obesity rates alone, the UK is third after Turkey and Malta.
The growing numbers of overweight and obese children and young adults across the UK is now translating into an “alarming acceleration” in type 2 diabetes cases among those aged 18 to 39, analysis by Diabetes UK suggests.
There is a close association between obesity and type 2 diabetes. There is a seven times greater risk of type 2 diabetes in obese people compared with those of healthy weight, and a threefold increase in risk for those just overweight.
The number of people under 40 in the UK diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has jumped 23% from about 120,000 in 2016/17 to 148,000 in 2020/21, according to Diabetes UK. That represents a faster growth rate than the rise in cases among over-40s, who still make up the vast majority of cases.
In 2016/17, there were about 3 million over-40s diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. That has increased 18% to about 3.6m in 2020/21.
“This analysis confirms an incredibly troubling growing trend, underlining how serious health conditions related to obesity are becoming more and more prevalent in a younger demographic,” Chris Askew, the chief executive of Diabetes UK, said.
He added: “While it’s important to remember that type 2 diabetes is a complex condition with multiple other risk factors, such as genetics, family history and ethnicity, these statistics should serve as a serious warning to policymakers and our NHS.
“They mark a shift from what we’ve seen historically with type 2 diabetes and underline why we’ve been calling on the government to press ahead with evidence-based policies aimed at improving the health of our nation and addressing the stark health inequalities that exist in parts of the UK.”
Until recently, type 2 diabetes has been quite rare in people aged under 40, so many people – including healthcare professionals – do not always recognise the symptoms.
While the number of under-40s with the condition represent a small proportion of the total affected, it can have more severe and acute consequences in younger people and, without the right treatment and support, can lead to serious complications, Diabetes UK said.
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“If you’re under 40, you’re not immune to type 2 diabetes,” said Askew. “It is vital that you check your risk now and that individuals, no matter what their age or background, are given the opportunity to access support to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Diabetes UK is encouraging those under 40 to check their risk of the disease using the free online tool on its website.
The condition can have a devastating impact on people and their families – it is a leading cause of preventable sight loss and lower limb amputation, and increases the risk of kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes.
There is strong evidence that type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed in those at risk, through improved quality of diet, an increase in physical activity and weight loss.


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