Could British diabetes rates plateau by 2020

Thu, 25 Sep 2014
With the latest data in the US showing that diabetes rates may have hit a plateau between 2008 and 2012, if the UK were to follow a similar trend, we could see diabetes rates levelling off as early as 2015.

The latest US diabetes figures come from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers from the CDC used data from the National Health Interview Survey which surveyed 664,969 adults between the ages of 20 to 79 years old.

The data showed that whilst rates of diabetes had more than doubled between 1990 and 2008, over the next 4 years, up to 2012, diabetes rates had increased only marginally. The prevalence of diabetes in the US as of 2012 is measured at 8.8%.

The slowing in diabetes rates appears to lag behind US obesity rates which levelled off in 2003. Around 1 in 3 US adults are obese and this has been the figure that has remained unchanged since 2003. If US diabetes rates have now reached a peak, this indicates that it has taken between 5 and 9 years from obesity rates levelling off for diabetes rates to do likewise.

If we assume that the rates of diabetes have indeed reached their plateau in the United States, this raises the question of whether the UK will see a similar effect in the near future.

Whilst diabetes rates have been growing relatively sharply within the UK in recent years, the rates of obesity within the UK have shown signs of slowing down according to data from the Health Survey for England 2012. There had been a dramatic growth in obesity rates between 1993 and 2001, with obesity rates (in people aged 16 years old and greater) increasing from around 15% in 1993 to 22% in 2001.

In the 11 years that followed, obesity rates had grown but at a slower rate, with the rate of obese people over 16 years old being measured at 25% in 2012. Indeed, in the period 2010 to 2012, obesity rates actually dipped from 26% to 25% suggesting that obesity rates may have reached a peak in the UK as of 2010.

If diabetes rates were to follow a similar trend as observed in the US, with diabetes levelling off with a 5 to 9 year lag behind obesity rates, we might expect to see diabetes rates reaching a plateau as early as over the next 1 to 5 years. Note, as statistics are compiled with a 1 to 2 year lag, we would therefore expect to see a plateau in diabetes rates first reported somewhere between 2016 and 2021. Currently, within the UK, 3.2 million people are estimated to be diagnosed with diabetes, giving a prevalence figure of 6% of the population.

Note that this makes a number of assumptions, such as that a similar trend in the US will be reflected in the UK, that obesity rates have indeed levelled since 2010 and also assumes that obesity is the driving force behind the rise in diabetes. Research shows that around 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are obese. With type 2 diabetes representing around 90% of diabetes cases, this means that statistically more than 80% of people with any type of diabetes will be obese.

By contrast, diabetes prevalence estimates made by Public Health England have predicted that diabetes rates will not settle before 2020 and will continue to rise over the next 10 years. Public Health England's estimate is that by 2025, 5 million people in the UK will be diagnosed with diabetes, representing around 9% of the population.
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