Sharp rise in type 2 diabetes among people under 40 in Britain

The number of people under 40 diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Britain has risen by 39% in six years, fueled by rising obesity levels and cheap junk food.

Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe. Two in three adults are overweight or obese and the NHS spends £6 billion a year treating obesity-related health problems. This is expected to rise to £10 billion per year by 2050.

New figures from Diabetes UK show that the number of cases of type 2 under the age of 40 has risen from 120,000 in 2016/2017 to almost 168,000. The number of diagnoses is increasing significantly faster than among people over 40, where the increase was 25% in six years.

The figures come after The Guardian revealed ministers had been warned they were putting children and young people at risk of life-changing medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, because they suspended policies to tackle obesity and junk food until 2025.

Many of the measures promised in the 2020 National Food Strategy have been pushed aside, watered down or left behind.

Diabetes UK CEO Colette Marshall said the rise in type 2 diabetes among children and young adults was alarming and called on ministers to urgently tackle the crisis.

“Drastic changes in the environment we live in and the food we eat over the past 25 years are taking a toll on our health,” she said. “We are bombarded with advertisements for cheaper, unhealthy food. The foods on our shelves contain more and more fat, salt and sugar. And rising costs are putting a healthy diet out of reach for millions of people.

“These conditions, combined with genetic factors and major inequalities, are driving rising levels of obesity, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Labor called the figures a disgrace.

The report published on Wednesday said people faced a more aggressive and acute form of diabetes when it developed at a younger age.

“It is also associated with an increased risk of a faster onset of devastating complications such as heart and kidney disease, vision loss and even early death,” the report said.

The report’s authors wrote: “We estimate that almost 168,000 people under the age of 40 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Britain, while almost 150,000 people under the age of 40 are diagnosed in England alone.”

Thousands more live with an undiagnosed condition. Analysis shows that half of people aged 16 to 44 with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have it.

The report also blames “gross inequality”, with people from the most deprived areas and those from black and South Asian backgrounds more likely to develop the condition.


It warned of a growing impact on the economy, with 43,000 people unemployed due to long-term illness “mainly due to their diabetes, an increase of 79% since 2019”.

Diabetes is also listed as a secondary condition for hundreds of thousands of people who are unable to work, the study said. The number of people with diabetes in Britain now exceeds 5 million.

The Guardian revealed in December how a damning government-commissioned report had warned vulnerable children were at risk of serious health problems as ministers suspended anti-obesity policies until 2025.

The independent report says ultra-processed foods (UPF) and products high in fat, sugar and salt have become ‘normalised’ in children’s diets, with poorer parents powerless to curb them.

The government says it is tackling childhood obesity, but ministers have postponed measures including a watershed ban on junk food advertising at 9pm and a ban on online advertising and unhealthy buy-one-get-one-free deals until October 2025 .

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “It is a shame that tens of thousands of young people are now suffering from type 2 diabetes thanks to years of Tory cowardice.

“The Conservative party has repeatedly failed to take action on junk food advertising, despite the fact that obesity costs the NHS billions and has terrible consequences for the health of our children.”

Every child deserved a healthy start in life, and Labor would ban junk food adverts aimed at children if the party won the next general election, he said.

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “The NHS has invested significantly in services to help people prevent, manage and in some cases reverse type 2 diabetes, including specific support for people under 40 – but it is clear that Reversing this trend requires coordinated action from industry, government and society to tackle obesity.”

Marshall called on ministers to “create the building blocks of health for every child and young person, including access to green space, affordable, healthy food and quality housing”.

She said the report was “a damning indictment” of the barriers many people faced in leading healthy lives, where good food was affordable and exercise was not a luxury.

“There is an opportunity for all generations to end this crisis and we call on all political parties to seize it,” she said. “We need bold action to reverse the rising trend of type 2 diabetes, transform our broken food environment and give every child and young person the best possible chance to grow up in good health.”

Health Secretary Andrew Stephenson stressed the Government’s commitment to tackling the causes and consequences of type 2 diabetes.

“We have invested more than £200 million in diabetes research since 2019 to accelerate the development of new treatments and improve care,” he said. “In addition, we have reduced the sugar content in everyday foods, introduced mandatory calorie labeling on menus and recently expanded the effective NHS soups and shakes program to help thousands more people.”