The true scale of the diabetes crisis in children and young people is up to ten times higher than previously thought, say experts.
The charity Diabetes UK analysed an audit of GPs and found that nearly 7,000 under-25s received treatment for the condition in England and Wales in 2016/17.
This is almost ten times more than the 715 under-25s receiving treatment in specialist diabetes clinics, as reported in August.
The number of children with diabetes is ten times higher than was previously thought
Some 7,000 youngsters have been treated for Type 2 diabetes – commonly linked to obesity
Today’s figures give the fullest picture to date because they combine the latest national audit of the number of children attending specialist diabetes clinics and the National Diabetes Audit, covering 95 per cent of GP practices.
They show that in 2016/17, a total of 6,836 people under the age of 25 were being treated for Type 2 diabetes. This included at least 11 aged nine and under, 196 aged ten to 14, 1,246 between 15 and 19 and a further 5,383 aged between 20 and 24.
Doctors say rising obesity is to blame for the surge in cases, which until 20 years ago had only ever been seen in adults.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the figures showed why urgent action was needed. Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition where the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or where the insulin the pancreas has made doesn’t work properly. It is generally associated with factors including poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.
With 34 per cent of children in England overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school, Diabetes UK warned that thousands more could be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the next few years.
It is much more aggressive in children and young people than in adults and can lead to heart disease, kidney damage and blindness.
Professor Viner said children who are at risk can still be helped through diet and exercise. He added: ‘For many children, the development of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented with lifestyle changes but this isn’t easy – they need support.’
Diabetes UK has called for better specialist support for youngsters with the condition to help manage their illness and reduce their risk of serious complications.
The Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We are committed to halving child obesity by 2030 and will be launching consultations to restrict promotions in shops for sugary and fatty foods, as well as a 9pm watershed ban on advertising.
‘The upcoming NHS long-term plan will have prevention at its core and build on our existing work to keep people healthy and well.’