While newly-diagnosed cases of the condition have increased by 275 per cent overall in the past two decades, those among people under 40 are up almost 600 per cent.
Obesity and poor diets are thought to be behind soaring rates of type 2 diabetes, according to researchers at Cardiff University. They warned that the consequences of this could be people living for longer periods in poor health and dying earlier. The research examined the data describing the incidence of newly diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes between 1991 and 2010.
During this period, the percentage of new cases which were diagnosed in people under 40 increased from 5.9 per cent of the total in 1991-95, to 8.5 per cent in 2000-05 and 12.4 per cent in 2005-10.
In Scotland, the figures mean an increase from around 530 new cases a year in the under-40s 20 years ago compared with 3,400 a year most recently.
Professor Craig Currie, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, who led the research, said: “We have known for some time that the incidence of new cases and prevalence the total number of people of type 2 diabetes has been increasing.
“We also know that there has been an increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents. This is thought to be dependent on many factors such as obesity, diet and family history.”
The team said, irrespective of the causes, the results showed that over the past 20 years, type 2 diabetes could now be considered common among relatively young people, which could have major implications for greater health problems in later life. Prof Currie added: “Early onset of type 2 diabetes could result in longer disease duration and lead to an increased risk of health complications.
“This will undoubtedly place an increasing burden on healthcare resources and result in poorer quality of life. An earlier age of onset may also ultimately lead to premature death.”
Around 250,000 people in Scotland have diabetes – about one person in every 20. The majority – about 217,500 – have type 2 diabetes, which unlike type 1 diabetes tends to develop later in life, often linked to an unhealthy lifestyle.
Jane-Claire Judson, national director of Diabetes UK Scotland, said: “Identifying more people with type 2 diabetes at a younger age has a positive benefit as it ensures appropriate care is delivered so that the risks of developing complications such as retinopathy [degradation of the retina causing blindness] or lower limb loss [due to poor circulation] are minimised.”