Health officials in Wales have described rising rates of type 2 diabetes as “really concerning”, after warning they are seeing more and more younger people with the condition.
There are currently almost 212,800 people in Wales with diabetes, with cases rising by 10% in the last 10 years.
Type 2 makes up around 90% of diabetes cases across the UK, but it is a condition that can be prevented by eating healthily, exercising and maintaining a healthy body weight. Weight loss can reverse type 2 diabetes.
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Medics in Wales are concerned they are now seeing more people in their 30s and 40s – and younger – with type 2 diabetes, a condition that can lead to serious complications including amputation, sight loss, heart attack and stroke.
Public health consultant Dr Amrita Jesurasa said type 2 diabetes would have been seen 20 years ago as something that only really affected older people, explaining: “But that’s the shift we are seeing – not only are there lots more people, but there are lots more people who are younger as well.
“Clinicians report seeing people who are in their 30s and 40s with type 2 diabetes, and that’s not an uncommon occurrence, and even younger.
“That is really concerning, especially as it’s preventable and there’s something we can do about it.”
Among those who were warned they were at risk of type 2 diabetes was 50-year-old Darren Rix. It was during a routine eye check that Mr Rix’s optometrist discovered a “wiggly vein” which prompted a blood test. This led to him being told he was pre-diabetic.
Mr Rix, from Swansea, made changes to his eating habits, cut down on sugar and started swimming regularly again, something he hadn’t done for 35 years.
He said it was a challenge to begin with, as he worked to develop his stamina, but now swims three times a week, swimming a mile during his hour-long session.
Mr Rix said: “I’ve been monitoring my weight and I did start off at 14 stone 8lb (92kg), today I’m down to 12 stone 8 (79kg). I went for my annual HbA1c blood test and that showed I am out of the pre-diabetic zone, I’m in the normal zone.”
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Diabetes accounts for around 10% of the NHS budget, with Public Health Wales reporting that the medicine bill alone for diabetes is £105m and hospital stays cost on average, £4,518 per patient.
These figures do not include amputations, which 560 people had surgery for in Wales during 2021-22.
Welsh ministers say the government is funding a pilot scheme, the All Wales Diabetes Prevention Programme, and is also looking at its longer plan to prevent and reduce rates of obesity.
Charity Diabetes Cymru commented: “What we’re seeing is that people living with diabetes aren’t necessarily getting all the health checks they need at the right time.
“And this means their potential for going on to develop some of the awful complications that can come with diabetes, such as amputations, sight loss, heart attack and stroke is more likely, because they aren’t getting those routine checks that they need to identify complications in the early stages.”