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Understanding Type 2 Diabetes: UK Statistics and Risk Factors (2024)

Written by: Content Team



Time to read 8 min

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, constituting 90% of the cases worldwide. In the UK, the figure is close to 3.5 million individuals, rising consistently ever since 2008.

This trend of rising numbers each year signals a shift in the public health of UK residents, which could be the result of changes in dietary habits, exercise, as well as the population’s ethnic makeup.

To better understand the current UK health climate, let’s review type 2 diabetes statistics by gender, age, ethnicity, and health metrics that signal the most common comorbidities.

Type 2 Diabetes in the UK by Gender

A nab and woman both using a glucose level sensor
A nab and woman both using a glucose level sensor

The ratio of males to females in the UK is slightly lower than 1:1, as females are 51% of the population, while males make up 49%.

However, among type 2 diabetes patients , males make up a higher percentage at 55.6%, while females only constitute 44.4% of patients.

This is a relatively surprising finding, since gestational diabetes, which happens in 5% of all pregnancies , can also lead to type 2 diabetes in 33% of the cases .

Type 2 Diabetes in the UK by Age

Woman self-injecting <a href=insulin with a smart pen" data-srcset=" 1800w, 1600w, 1400w, 1200w, 1000w, 800w, 600w, 400w">
Woman self-injecting insulin with a smart pen

Although the diagnosis was once relegated to people over 40, type 2 diabetes is currently spreading at a higher-than-usual rate among children, teens, and younger adults.

In the most recent research released by Statista for the years 2022-2023, the percentage of patients at the age of 40 or under who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes rose to 4.4%. This translates to over 140,000 patients, which is over half of the current number of people living with type 1 diabetes (269,000).

The highest percentage remains taken up by people between the ages of 40 and 64, at 43.9%, closely followed by 65–79 year-olds, who constitute 37.3% of all type 2 diabetes patients. Since the UK has an aging population, patients over 80 come in third place with 14.4%.

The recent increase in younger patients with no family history or other genetic risk factors developing type 2 diabetes is highly likely to be the result of changes in personal habits.

With the rise of technology, chances to remain physically active are dwindling. Activities like walking, climbing stairs, or regular playground exercise aren’t as inviting to children and teens.

The current obesity epidemic is also a factor, with the average body weight in the UK rising from 78.9kg to 85.4kg for men and from 66.6kg to 72.1kg for women between 1993 and 2019.

Type 2 Diabetes in the UK by Ethnicity

Type 2 Diabetes text, a syringe and meds
Type 2 Diabetes text, a syringe and meds

Ethnic differences also have a marked effect on the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among certain populations. This was “common wisdom” among healthcare practitioners, however, empirical data was needed to prove the connection.

In a 2019 study published in the Dovepress Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, data collected from electronic records of general practices gathered by The Health Improvement Network (THIN) in London confirmed the hypothesis that Asian and Black populations are more vulnerable to diabetes.

Compared to the Caucasian (White) population, of which 5.04% were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the following populations had varying results:

  • South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi): 7.69%

  • Black African Descent: 5.58%

  • Mixed/Other group: 3.42%

It was once believed that these differences were mainly due to factors of poverty and social deprivation, which often contribute to poorer food and exercise choices, leading to obesity.

However, another study in the Diabetes Care Journal proved that the weight threshold for developing type 2 diabetes was lower for other ethnicities.

The prevalence of diabetes at a BMI of 30 kg/m 2 in Caucasians was met by the same prevalence at:

  • 22.0 kg/m 2 for South Asians

  • 26.0 kg/m 2 for Black people

  • 24.0 kg/m 2 for Chinese women

  • 26.0 kg/m 2 for Chinese men

It’s worth noting that the current rise in the number of type 2 diabetes cases in the UK can partially be attributed to the shift in cultural and ethnic diversity. However, it’s also a sobering truth to note that many people from non-White ethnic backgrounds are more vulnerable to socio-economic conditions that increase their risk of developing diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes in the UK and Accompanying Health Conditions

When fasting blood glucose levels rise beyond a certain limit (126 mg/dL) on more than one occasion, it’s considered grounds for a diabetes diagnosis.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease, which means that it affects the body on a systemic level, increasing the risk of various health problems. These problems include:

Kidney Disease

Kidney pains
Kidney pains

One of the most common diabetes complications is nephropathy or diabetic kidney disease. It’s a condition that results from the damage blood vessels endure due to large glucose molecules filtering through the kidney after accumulating in the blood.

According to Kidney Research UK , 27.5% of new patients who need dialysis or a kidney transplant are diabetic. The number of patients receiving this kind of care currently is over 22,600, with 9,900 suffering from end-stage kidney disease, leading to kidney failure.

High Blood Pressure

Doctor checking patient
Doctor checking patient's blood pressure

Since the kidneys are responsible for controlling the salt balance in the body, kidney disease that affects functionality can cause higher salt concentrations in the blood. This causes the body to retain more water, which increases blood volume and pressure on the blood vessels.

This is one of the reasons why hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the most common comorbidities that appear alongside diabetes. In a study done by the Annals of Medicine and Surgery, it was found that 70.2% of participants with type 2 diabetes also had elevated blood pressure. This figure is echoed globally, as every two out of three people with diabetes are diagnosed with hypertension .

Heart Disease

Man experiencing chest pain
Man experiencing chest pain

Research done by Diabetes UK compared datasets of almost 400,000 people with normal glucose metabolism with a similar number of type 2 diabetes patients. It found that having type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, with patients having a 21% higher risk of getting ill.

This could be due to the effects of hypertension or coronary artery disease ; a condition where arterial plaque collects on the inner walls of the blood vessels supplying the heart with oxygenated blood.

What Puts You at Risk of Developing Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes was once believed to solely be the result of lifestyle choices that compromise the individual’s health. While some risk factors are within the realm of one’s control, others are genetic and can’t be changed.

That said, it pays to closely monitor the ones you can to avoid increasing one’s chances of developing diabetes. These include:

Being Overweight or Obese

An obese man
An obese man

One of the most studied correlations in modern medicine is the effect of excessive weight on metabolic health. In England, governmental reports show that 90% of all adults with type 2 diabetes are either overweight or obese. Moreover, being obese (with a body mass index of over 30 kg/m 2 ) makes it five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

On the flip side, losing weight (by at least 15 kilograms) increases the chances of type 2 diabetes going into remission .

Insufficient Physical Activity

Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a known cause of hastening the onset of metabolic diseases like diabetes, due to its effect on the metabolic rate, as well as increasing the body mass index beyond healthy limits. This is currently one of the biggest issues, due to the rise in desk jobs, living in cities that aren’t as pedestrian-friendly, and not regularly engaging in physical activity.

Doing mild to moderate exercise for 15-20 minutes daily is recommended to prevent type 2 diabetes , as well as cardiovascular issues.

Overconsumption of Ultra-Processed Foods

Processed canned foods
Processed canned foods

The convenience of relying on pre-packaged, ultra-processed foods as a main source of nutrition is a proven culprit for type 2 diabetes . That’s because most processed foods contain sugar, fat, and salt as cheap flavour enhancers to make the food more palatable. They also pack too many “empty” calories that don’t provide adequate nutrition and make it difficult to feel satiated.

To maintain a healthy weight and prevent type 2 diabetes, it is recommended to eat a healthy diet rich in sources of fibre (fresh vegetables and whole grains), lean protein (fish, tofu, and white-meat poultry), and healthy dietary fat (oily fish, avocadoes, nuts, and seeds).

Insulin Resistance/Prediabetes

Impaired glucose tolerance ( prediabetes ) is a condition that precedes an official type 2 diabetes diagnosis. It signals insulin resistance, an issue with the body’s ability to respond to the natural insulin produced by the pancreas to utilize dietary glucose.

Insulin resistance is a reversible condition resulting from low-level chronic inflammation. It can be caused by excessive weight, a diet high in processed food (especially red, processed meats), and insufficient daily exercise.

Since the previous factors are related to lifestyle choices, they can be controlled and eliminated to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

As for genetic and environmental factors, they include:

Family History of Diabetes

Having at least one parent who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes increases the likelihood of developing diabetes. The risk seems to be higher if the parent with diabetes is the mother, although no clear percentages were established.

No gene has been discovered to be directly related to type 2 diabetes. Most research points to other familial factors, such as common living environment, socio-economic level, and eating habits shared by family members.

Gestational Diabetes

Pregnant woman with gestational diabetes reviewing her glucose levels
Pregnant woman with gestational diabetes reviewing her glucose levels

Gestational diabetes develops into type 2 diabetes when elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy are combined with other risk factors. These include: being overweight, having a family history of type 2 diabetes, or being of South Asian, Middle Eastern, or Afro-Caribbean descent.

Ethnic Background

Ethnicity and its effect on the likelihood of developing diabetes were previously discussed at length.

It’s crucial to observe the statistics in this area cautiously, not to regard them as absolute. It’s still possible to avoid type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and one’s body in general.

In Conclusion

Type 2 diabetes has recently seen a meteoric rise in developed countries due to the current increase in jobs that aren’t especially physically demanding, the prevalence of hyper-palatable processed food, and the lack of incentive for physical activity in one's free time.

Understanding these factors that increase the risk of developing diabetes is the first step toward prevention. The statistics gathered here aim to offer a glimpse of the state of type 2 diabetes in the UK, so enough information is available for researchers as well as curious readers.

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