Among the various types of diabetes, type 2 diabetes is generally considered a metabolic disorder tied to middle-aged and older people, and is hardly ever seen in adolescents and young adults. Now, a new study has revealed an increase in cases of type 2 diabetes among adolescents and young people worldwide over the past 30 years. Researchers at Harbin Medical University, China, attribute this cause mainly to an increase in obesity rates globally. 

Their findings after analyzing data from over 200 countries also reveal that women below the age of 30 years were particularly affected when compared to men. Likewise countries with a low-middle and middle sociodemographic index.

According to data, early onset of type 2 diabetes (diagnosis before clocking 40 years), has become increasingly rampant, however, and rise in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in young people has been reported in a few countries. Yet information on the global burden of type 2 diabetes as well as its possible risk factors remains rather lacking. 

Chinese researchers worked to fill this knowledge gap. For their study, they analyzed data gotten from the Global Burden of Diseases  Study 2019 containing data on 204 countries and territories from 1990 – 2019. They based their focus on those with type 2 diabetes with an onset age of 15 to 39 years. They then looked at data concerning new type 2 diabetes cases, Disabilty-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), and death.  

The team also looked at DALY attributable to diverse risk factors and found that high body mass index (BMI) was the primary contributor to the onset of diabetes at an earlier age. Others included smoking, household air pollution, a sedentary lifestyle, diets high in processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and diet low in fruits. Although, they noted that the risk factors differed across diverse regions. 

They found that the incidence rate of type 2 diabetes among young people rose from 117 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 183 by 2019. On the other hand, the other measure they examined was the Disabilty-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), which rose from 106 per 100,000 people in 1990 to 150 by 2019.

In addition, the death rate slightly increased from 0.74 per 100,000 in 1990 to 0.77 per 100,000 in 2019.

The team also found the highest cases of type 2 diabetes and DALY rate among those living in the low-middle sociodemographic index. Meanwhile, countries having a low sociodemographic index had the least incidence of type 2 diabetes but recorded the highest death rate.

The researchers, however, expressed several limitations in the study. One is the differences in the definitions of type 2 diabetes supplied by the data sources. All in all, they highlight the need for proper weight management and call for the requirement of special attention for intervention measures—in particularly women—to prevent the early onset of type 2 diabetes, thereby lowering the burden of the disease.

“Our study showed a clear upward trend of the burden of early onset type 2 diabetes from 1990 to 2019,” the study authors write in the paper. “These findings provide a basis for understanding the epidemic nature of early onset type 2 diabetes and call for urgent actions to deal with the issue from a global perspective.”

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