The number of children in the UK with diabetes largely caused by obesity has soared 41% in just three years, figures show. The Independent reports that analysis shows hundreds more young people being seen at specialist paediatric units for type 2 diabetes, as the junk food-fuelled childhood obesity epidemic bites. The report says recent figures already showed a record 22,000 children are classed as severely obese, drastically increasing their risk of type 2 diabetes and serious complications including amputations, nerve damage and stroke.
Children with the condition are likely to have their lives shortened by a decade or more, Professor Naveed Sattar, an expert in metabolic medicine from the University of Glasgow, is quoted in the report as saying. “Their chances of getting serious complications in their lifetime will be far greater than an adult with type 2, because they will have that diabetes for several more decades,” he said.
“They will be more obese to begin with, their sugar control is worsening faster, and we don’t tend to give them statins at a young age to protect their hearts – we don’t want to give statins to kids.
“The fact these numbers are going up, though still relatively modest, it’s a disaster for society, the children and their families – and the medical profession.
“I can’t paint it any more bleak than that, it’s an unmitigated disaster.”
The report says there is a lack of research on effective treatments for type 2 diabetes in children. But Sattar says drastic interventions such as gastric band surgery have already been used in the US for children with the condition, and may become a reality in the UK.
Severe obesity – defined as having a body mass index of 40 or above – significantly increases the chances of dying prematurely from breast and colon cancers, heart disease and stroke, as well as diabetes.
Obesity has been dubbed “the new smoking” and is being fuelled around the world by the spread of cheap, high calorie convenience foods which are disproportionately found in the most socially deprived UK boroughs. And, the report says, rising childhood obesity means the National Health Service (NHS) is grappling with the costs of treating chronic conditions and their complications, throughout patients’ entire adult lives – £1 in every £10 is already spent on diabetes.
The first case of type 2 diabetes in a UK child was recorded in 2000, but the 2016-17 National Paediatric Diabetes Audit (NPDA) showed 715 children and young people now need specialist treatment. Of that group, 429 of the patients were aged 15 to 19, 269 were 10 to 14, and 11 were aged five to nine – with some even younger.
The report says that is a startling increase from the 507 cases recorded in the 2013-14 audit, and the condition was once only seen in adults aged over 40 – who still make up the majority of the 3.2m type 2 diabetics in the UK. And despite the grim warnings, we still “may not be seeing the full picture”.
“(The NPDA) only captures data from paediatric diabetes units in England and Wales, and doesn’t account for children and young people seen in primary care, so there could potentially be more,” said Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which runs the audit.
Government interventions in the past year, including the introduction of a sugar tax on sweetened drinks and pledges to improve calorie labelling and help families eat more healthily, have been welcomed. But campaign groups say plans are not bold or ambitious enough to counteract obesity, adding the National Diabetes Prevention Plan is unlikely to meet its aim of cutting type 2 within a decade.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know the damage obesity causes and are determined to halve childhood obesity by 2030. We’ve invested billions in public health services and have already removed the equivalent of 45m kilograms of sugar from soft drinks every year.
“Our new childhood obesity plan will now get children exercising more in schools and reduce their exposure to sugary and fatty foods.”
The sharp rise has prompted concern among doctors and led to renewed calls for tougher government action to tackle the relentless increase in the number of dangerously overweight youngsters. “Type 2 diabetes is a disaster for the child and their family and for the NHS,” Graham MacGregor, a professor of cardiovascular health at Queen Mary University of London who is also the chair of the campaign group Action on Sugar, is quoted in The Guardian as saying.
Ministers recently announced measures intended to halve childhood obesity by 2030, including: demanding calorie labelling on menus in cafes, takeaways and restaurant; banning the sale of caffeine-filled energy drinks to under-16s; and stopping supermarkets displaying treat foods near checkouts or including them in money-off offers.
But much firmer action is needed, said MacGregor. “Appeals to people to eat more healthily won’t be enough. We need to ban the marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods altogether, not just limit it, as ministers are considering.
“We should also extend the sugary drinks tax to confectionery and set a target of reducing the sugar in products by 50%, far more than the 20% PHE is proposing,” he added.
[link url="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/diabetes-child-type-2-cancer-obesity-crisis-heart-disease-blood-sugar-symptoms-a8496551.html"]The Independent report[/link]
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/18/cases-of-type-2-diabetes-among-young-people-rise-41-in-three-years"]The Guardian report[/link]