Fears over diabetes diagnosis for Scots under-4s

Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, which can be a more aggressive illness in children than in adults, doctors say. Picture: Thinkstock

Obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes, which can be a more aggressive illness in children than in adults, doctors say. Picture: Thinkstock

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CHILDREN as young as four are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Scotland and health experts admit they are struggling to deal with this “tragic” side effect of the country’s obesity crisis.

Fifteen years ago there were no recorded cases of children or adolescents developing type 2 diabetes – which is linked to obesity – but since then numbers have risen, with nearly 70 under 18s diagnosed last year, including five children aged 0-4.

Health experts say that being diagnosed at a younger age can lead to a more aggressive illness compared to that in adults, causing serious complications much earlier, including heart disease, eye damage, and even kidney failure by the time children reach their 20s.

Health campaigners blame the rise in cases on a poor diet and lack of exercise, urging the Scottish Government to make major changes.

Professor Naveed Sattar, clinician and professor of metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, said it was a “disaster” when young people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

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He said: “The first cases of type 2 diabetes in children in the UK were reported in 2000 initially in Asian children but subsequently in very obese white children. Now we are seeing a rise in numbers, and although actual numbers are still small, it’s a major concern.

“Most children with type 2 diabetes will be South-Asian and with a strong family history of diabetes. In white children, family histories are often also there but weight is often much higher in white children compared to Asian children.”

Professor Sattar said children who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes appear to have, on average, a much poorer prognosis than older adults.

He said: “Studies have shown that developing type 2 diabetes at a young age increases the chance of complications developing, including kidney disease, heart disease and even premature death.

“Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes under the age of 30 is therefore a major concern and we are struggling with how to deal with these patients.

“We need to help people to change, to lead a healthier lifestyles and to avoid becoming so obese at such young ages.

“People think of it as a disease of the old, but its no longer just people in old age being diagnosed, we are now seeing people in their 20s and occasionally adolescents and kids, and this emerging pattern should act as a wake up call to all of us and governments to do more to prevent obesity,” he added.

There are around 236,000 living with type 2 diabetes in Scotland, and rates are increasing rapidly. One in seven children in Scotland is classed as either obese or overweight.

Tam Fry, patron of the Child Growth Foundation and chairman of National Obesity Forum, said it was a “tragedy” that young children were being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

He said: “We now have children being treated for obesity by their first birthday in this country, and children with type 2 diabetes can suffer heart problems by their 20s – and that’s tragic.’’

Public health minister Maureen Watt said: “Diabetes is a key priority for the Scottish Government. We are determined to deliver world-class diabetes healthcare and our Diabetes Improvement Plan sets out ambitious improvement steps to ensure that diabetes services in Scotland are second to none.”

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