The number of new cases of type 2 diabetes may be declining, research suggests.
Australian scientists looked at 47 studies carried out from the 1960s to 2014, largely across the US, Canada and Europe.
More than a third (36 per cent) of these populations saw a fall in the number of new cases between 2006 and 2014, while another third had diagnoses stabilise.
The scientists credit increased ‘health awareness’, with ‘bike tracks and exercise parks’ becoming commonplace, along with a reduction in fizzy drink consumption.
However, other experts stress obesity – a key driver of type 2 diabetes – is still a ‘significant’ concern.
The number of new cases of type 2 diabetes may be declining, research suggests (stock)
The research was carried out by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.
‘We are seeing a flattening of incidence and even a fall in many high income countries in the recent years,’ lead author Professor Dianna Magliano said.
‘The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from falling incidence is we are succeeding in reducing the risk for developing diabetes in the population.’
More than 100million adults in the US live with diabetes or prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prediabetes is defined as a person’s blood sugar levels being higher than normal but not elevated enough to be considered diabetes.
And in the UK, 3.8million people have been diagnosed with diabetes, Diabetes UK statistics show.
In both nations, more than 90 per cent of diabetics have type 2, which is associated with being overweight or obese.
WHAT IS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.
More than 4million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.
The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.
Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin.
Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.
Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.
It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.
Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.
Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.co.uk
To uncover how rates of the disease are changing, the researchers looked at studies that were mainly carried out in high-income countries.
Between 1960 and 1989, 36 per cent of the populations saw type 2 diabetes rise, the team reported in the British Medical Journal.
During this time, the disease remained stable in 55 per cent of the populations, while nine per cent saw cases go down.
From 1990-to-2005, the number of new cases rose in two-thirds (66 per cent) of the populations studied, was stable in 32 per cent and went down in just two per cent.
The number of new cases started to slow between 2006 and 2014, when only a third (33 per cent) of populations saw cases rise, with 30 per cent staying the same and 36 per cent declining.
The researchers wrote ‘we might be starting to benefit from prevention activities of type 2 diabetes’, such as increased awareness of risks.
Over the 54 years the studies were carried out, ‘health education programmes’ have been introduced at schools, as well as ‘bike tracks and exercise parks’ becoming more commonplace, they added.
In the US in particular, there is ‘some evidence’ of ‘improved diets’, such as a ‘reduction in intake of sugar-sweetened beverages’, the researchers wrote.
It is worth noting, however, only five (11 per cent) of the studies screened for undiagnosed diabetes. The true number of cases may therefore be higher.
Despite the ‘good news’, other experts were dubious of whether type 2 diabetes is really declining.
Dr Sarah Wild, from the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC: ‘There does seem to be a flattening of new cases of diabetes.
‘Why that is seems to be a bit of a puzzle. It’s good news. But that doesn’t mean we can take our eye off the ball.’
Another expert maintained diabetes is a ‘growing crisis’.
Dr Emily Burns, head of research communications at Diabetes UK, said: ‘It’s promising to see the number of people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes might potentially be plateauing in certain parts of the world.
‘However, it’s important to highlight this study wasn’t able to represent everyone living with type 2 diabetes, so more diverse research is needed before we can fully understand any changing trends.
‘The challenges posed by obesity and unhealthy lifestyles – the two main drivers for type 2 diabetes – remain significant, with more people being at risk of developing the condition than ever before.
‘While the findings are interesting, this study doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the growing diabetes crisis and the vital prevention efforts underway to help tackle this.’