Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at a younger age could shave years off your life expectancy, a new study has shown.

The team behind the research say that preventing or delaying the condition should be an “urgent priority” after estimating that people who were diagnosed at the ages 30, 40 and 50 died on average around 14, 10 and six years earlier, respectively, than those without type 2 diabetes.

Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio, from the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Heart and Lung Research Institute (VPD-HLRI) at the University of Cambridge, said: “Type 2 diabetes used to be seen as a disease that affected older adults, but we’re increasingly seeing people diagnosed earlier in life. As we’ve shown, this means they are at risk of a much shorter life expectancy than they would otherwise have.”

Globally, cases of type 2 diabetes have risen rapidly due to growing rates of obesity, poor quality of diet and sedentary lifestyles.

Around 537 million adults were estimated to have the condition in 2021, with more and more people being diagnosed at a younger age.

‘Vascular deaths’ were the most common reason for reduced life expectancy linked to diabetes, which includes heart attack, stroke and aneurysms.

Cancer, another complication linked to type 2 diabetes, also played a part in the reduced life expectancy.

Dr Stephen Kaptoge, from the VPD-HLRI, said: “Type 2 diabetes can be prevented if those at greatest risk can be identified and offered support – whether that’s to make changes to their behaviour or to provide medication to lower their risk. But there are also structural changes that we as a society should be pursuing, including relating to food manufacturing, changes to the built environment to encourage more physical activity, and so on.

“Given the impact type 2 diabetes will have on people’s lives, preventing – or at least delaying the onset – of the condition should be an urgent priority.”

Prior studies had identified that people with type 2 diabetes have a life expectancy that is, on average, six years shorter than those without the condition. Less was known however, about how this impact on life expectancy differs according to age of diagnosis.

A team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and University of Glasgow analysed data from two major international studies, involving 1.5 million people from 19 high-income countries.

They found that every decade of earlier diagnosis of type 2 diabetes was linked to around a four-year reduction in life expectancy.

The estimates were found to be slightly higher among women – for those diagnosed at ages 30, 40, and 50 years, the reduction in life expectancy was 16, 11, and 7 years, respectively, compared to 14, 9, and 5 years, respectively, among men.

Professor Naveed Sattar, from the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow, added: “Our findings support the idea that the younger an individual is when they develop type 2 diabetes, the more damage their body accumulates from its impaired metabolism. But the findings also suggest that early detection of diabetes by screening followed by intensive glucose management could help prevent long-term complications from the condition.”

The study was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

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