CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom — Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition to manage at any age, but a new study finds developing it earlier in life may lead to an early grave. Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered that people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before the age of 30 could end up with a life expectancy 14 years shorter than the average person.
The study reveals that the earlier someone is diagnosed with the condition, the more significant the decrease in their life expectancy. Researchers from Cambridge and the University of Glasgow have expressed concern about the rising number of younger individuals being diagnosed with the disease, which could shave decades off their lives.
Published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, the study emphasizes the pressing need for interventions to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes. The surge in Type 2 diabetes cases worldwide is attributed to rising obesity levels, poor dietary habits, and increased sedentary behavior.
In 2021, estimates projected that roughly 537 million adults globally had diabetes. A growing portion of these cases were diagnosed at younger and younger ages. Type 2 diabetes heightens the risk for several health issues, including heart attacks, strokes, kidney ailments, and cancer.
Previous studies suggest that adults with Type 2 diabetes, on average, live about six years less than those without the condition. However, the extent to which life expectancy reduces based on the age of diagnosis remained uncertain.
To delve into this, researchers analyzed data from two significant international studies: the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and the UK Biobank, involving roughly 1.5 million participants. They concluded that the earlier the age of diagnosis for Type 2 diabetes, the more pronounced the reduction in life expectancy.
On average, every 10-year earlier diagnosis resulted in approximately a four-year decrease in life expectancy. From the U.S. data, the team estimated that individuals diagnosed with diabetes at ages 30, 40, and 50 had life expectancies reduced by around 14, 10, and six years, respectively, compared to those without the disease. These figures were found to be slightly higher in women — 16, 11, and seven years respectively — compared to men, who saw reductions of 14, nine, and five years.
When compared to data from the EU, the findings were consistent. Europeans diagnosed at ages 30, 40, and 50 had life expectancies shortened by approximately 19, nine, and five years, respectively.
“Type 2 diabetes used to be seen as a disease that affected older adults, but we’re increasingly seeing people diagnosed earlier in life. As we’ve shown, this means they are at risk of a much shorter life expectancy than they would otherwise have,” explains Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio, from the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Heart and Lung Research Institute (VPD-HLRI) at Cambridge, in a university release.
Dr. Stephen Kaptoge, also from the VPD-HLRI, argues that structural changes in society could be pursued to prevent or delay diabetes in adults.
“Type 2 diabetes can be prevented if those at greatest risk can be identified and offered support – whether that’s to make changes to their behavior or to provide medication to lower their risk. But there are also structural changes that we as a society should be pursuing, including relating to food manufacturing, changes to the built environment to encourage more physical activity, and so on,” Dr. Kaptoge says.
“Given the impact Type 2 diabetes will have on people’s lives, preventing – or at least delaying the onset – of the condition should be an urgent priority.”
The research team found the reduction in life expectancies in people with diabetes was mostly due to “vascular deaths” – those related to heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms.
Other complications such as cancer also contributed to lesser life expectancies.
“Our findings support the idea that the younger an individual is when they develop Type 2 diabetes, the more damage their body accumulates from its impaired metabolism. But the findings also suggest that early detection of diabetes by screening followed by intensive glucose management could help prevent long-term complications from the condition,” adds Professor Naveed Sattar from the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow.
South West News Service writer James Gamble contributed to this report.