The number of diabetics has doubled to five million in just 15 years, shock figures revealed yesterday.
Almost 4.1million Britons have been diagnosed with the condition, compared with just over two million back in 2004/05.
A further 850,000 are thought to have the Type 2 form of the illness without knowing, according to Diabetes UK.
Soaring obesity levels are being blamed for the surge in cases, which are generally associated with poor diet and inactivity. These lifestyle factors are putting a further 13.6million people at risk of developing the disease.
Almost 4.1million Brits have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with just over two million back in 2004/05, Diabetes UK says (stock image of doctor checking blood sugar level)
With studies showing Type 2 patients are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 – and even suggestions that vaccines could be less effective – experts said taking action had never been so important.
Diabetes UK said prevention should become a national priority.
‘The number of people with diabetes is increasing year on year,’ said chief executive Chris Askew. ‘As we look to the future post Covid-19, preventing cases of Type 2 diabetes must be a public health priority. The pandemic has shown with devastating clarity how diabetes puts you at increased risk of poorer outcomes when contracting the virus.
‘Yet we know that with the right support, up to half of Type 2 diabetes cases − and the accompanying risk of developing life-threatening complications − can be delayed or prevented.’
The numbers diagnosed have risen by 150,000 in the past year alone, with official cases having risen to 4,072,362.
But the true total for those living with the disease is estimated to be around 4.9million, with many unaware they have it.
Sean Carter-Selwood (pictured), 27, from Swindon, did not realise that his grandfather having Type 2 diabetes and his weight of 18½ stone put him at increased risk of the condition
NHS figures show that nearly one in ten residents in places including Harrow, north-west London, and parts of Birmingham and Leicester, are living with the disease.
This is more than double the proportion in the country’s best performing areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham in west London, where fewer than 4 per cent of the borough’s residents have been diagnosed with the illness.
Experts say the diabetes explosion has coincided with an obesity crisis.
I had no idea I was at risk at the age of 27
Sean (pictured) was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after discovering his blood-sugar levels were high but is in now remission
At just 27, Sean Carter-Selwood did not suspect he was at risk from diabetes.
He had wanted to shift a few Christmas pounds and started going to the gym but began feeling dizzy and run down, with pain in his kidneys.
After his GP ran tests, he discovered his blood-sugar levels were high and he was later diagnosed with diabetes.
‘My Type 2 diagnosis came as a real shock – I was only 27 at the time,’ said the service manager from Swindon.
‘My grandfather had Type 2 diabetes, but he had died when I was young. I just didn’t know that my family history and my weight could put me at increased risk of the condition – even at 27.
‘At the time I was in the obese category on the BMI scale and would describe myself as a bit of a couch potato. I work in an office job, which can be a dangerous environment – you spend much of the day sitting at a desk and there’s always cake about.’
He was put on medication and thanks to a better diet and more exercise his weight is down from 18½ stone to 14 stone. His diabetes is in remission.
He added: ‘I wish I had known more about the risk factors.’
The number of obese Britons has leapt from 6.9million to 13million over the past two decades and more than two thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said the UK would continue to be ‘plagued by increases in both obesity and diabetes’ unless more was done to win the ‘fight against fat’.
He added: ‘The figures should surprise no one.
‘For 20 years successive governments have done next to nothing to tackle obesity – the principal trigger of diabetes – and the numbers have rocketed as a direct consequence.
‘Although the NHS diabetes prevention programme has been heralded as the answer to preventing further escalation, the predictions point to the fact that it will fail, too.’
Whereas Type 1 is an auto-immune disease that occurs if the body stops producing insulin, Type 2 is caused by a fatty build-up around the muscle and liver cells.
It accounts for 90 per cent of cases and around 90 per cent of these are preventable through diet and exercise. Around nine in ten people who have Type 2 are overweight or obese, but doctors say the illness can be prevented and even reversed with basic changes.
Research has shown that for every kilogram of weight lost, there is a 16 per cent reduction in diabetes risk.
Diabetes costs the NHS almost £10billion a year and in pre-Covid times, some hospitals reported one in four beds at any one time were occupied by someone with the condition.
Although it can be controlled by drugs, it is still seen as a life-shortening condition because of the widespread damage caused by the build-up of sugar in the blood over time.
Health officials are urging families to use the Know Your Risk tool on the Diabetes UK website to understand whether alterations to their lifestyle could reduce their chances of developing the disease.
The diabetes prevention programme has given 750,000 people at risk of Type 2 diabetes support to lose weight, with measures including soup and shake diets and exercise programmes.
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, encouraged patients to self-refer themselves to doctors for support.
He said: ‘The evidence is clear that diabetes significantly increases the risk of dying from Covid and so it is now more important than ever that we focus our efforts on not just treating Type 2 diabetes but preventing people from getting it in the first place.’