Even if someone is diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 50, their life expectancy can still drop by up to six years, according to a study in 19 high-income countries. The research, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, underlines the urgency of preventing or delaying diabetes onset, especially as more young adults are being diagnosed due to obesity, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. In 2021, about 537 million adults globally had diabetes, with more cases occurring in younger age groups.
Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious health problems like heart attacks, strokes, kidney issues, and cancer. Studies have suggested that, on average, people with this condition live about six years less than those without it.
However, scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow looked at data from 1.5 million people to see how age at diagnosis affects life expectancy. They found that the earlier someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the more years it takes off their life. For example, if diagnosed at age 30, people could live about 14 years less than those without diabetes. This effect was slightly stronger in women than in men.
Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio from the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Heart and Lung Research Institute (VPD-HLRI), University of Cambridge, said: “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.”
Dr. Stephen Kaptoge, also from the VPD-HLRI, said: “Type 2 diabetes can be prevented if those at most significant risk can be identified and offered support – whether that’s to change 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.
“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 study showed that most of the reduced life expectancy linked to diabetes came from ‘vascular deaths’ like heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms. Other problems like cancer also play a role in reducing lifespan. Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow said that getting diabetes at a younger age can cause more bodily harm over time due to metabolic issues.
However, early detection through screening and careful management of blood sugar levels could help prevent long-term problems caused by diabetes. Various organizations supported the research, including the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.