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Campaign launched to get under-40s in NI to understand the risk of type 2 diabetes

A leading charity partnership is urging people across Northern Ireland to check their risk of type 2 diabetes through a free online tool as shocking new figures reveal an alarming acceleration of diagnoses in younger age groups across the UK.

More than 2,400 people under 40 in Northern Ireland are currently registered as living with type 2 diabetes, a serious condition that is known to have more severe and acute consequences in people under 40 and, without the right treatment and support, can lead to serious complications that include kidney failure and heart disease.

Analysis of NHS data carried out by long-standing partners Diabetes UK and Tesco has shown that cases of type 2 diabetes – historically associated with older people – are now rising at a faster rate among those under 40 than in those over 40. With registered cases of type 2 in this age group up 23% in just five years, the charity predicts the number of people in the UK aged between 18 and 39 living with a diagnosis of the condition could hit 200,000 by 2027.

It comes as new research commissioned by Diabetes UK and Tesco reveals that people under 40 from Northern Ireland are generally unaware of many of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, or the devastating complications the condition can lead to.

The research also sheds light on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. More than half of people (57%) said they had deprioritised their health as a direct result of the current crisis, with nearly a quarter (23%) saying they had avoided or put off medical checks.

The UK-wide survey of people aged between 18 and 39 also found:

• A worrying 63% of people in Northern Ireland didn’t know how to check if they were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

• 72% either didn’t know or weren’t sure what the symptoms of type 2 diabetes were, raising fears cases could go undiagnosed.

• Few realised that amputations (44%), strokes (22%) and depression (37%) were possible complications of type 2 diabetes.

In response, Diabetes UK and Tesco are launching a campaign in Northern Ireland to drive a million people to better understand their individual risk of type 2 diabetes by using Diabetes UK’s free online ‘Know Your Risk’ tool.

Anyone who completes an assessment using the tool will be directed to free advice and information on the help and support available to manage their risk.

The campaign comes ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14th November. In addition to launching an online risk assessment, Tesco has also produced a series of healthy and budget-friendly recipes, which are available through the Tesco Real Food website. This is on top of Tesco’s existing commitments to make healthy food more accessible for its customers. Last year, Tesco committed to increase sales of healthy food to 65% by 2025 and make products healthier through reformulation.

Shannon Ball, 26, is from Halifax and was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at the age of 16. She said:

“I know how overwhelming a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can be for a younger person – I’ve lived through it – and I also know how difficult it can be to know where to go for support or advice if you’re worried about your health. That’s why I want to help as many people as possible understand their risk of type 2 diabetes and find the support to act.

“I’m proof that with the right advice and support around you, it’s possible to feel more in control of your health. I hope this campaign shows people who are worried about their risk of type 2 diabetes that the help is there and gives them the confidence to go out and get it.”

Chris Askew is Chief Executive at Diabetes UK commented:

This trend of rapidly-increasing early-onset type 2 diabetes is incredibly troubling. It marks a shift from what we’ve seen historically and should be taken as a serious warning to policymakers and our NHS.

“If you’re under 40, you’re not immune to type 2 diabetes. It is vital that you check your risk now and that individuals, no matter what their age or background, are given the opportunity to access support to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.

“We’re immensely grateful to Tesco for their support with this important campaign and hope it leads to huge numbers of under 40s in Northern Ireland making that essential first step and checking their risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Jason Tarry is CEO, UK & ROI at Tesco. He said:

“Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common health conditions we face in the UK, but the reality is that many cases could be prevented or delayed. And we know that a healthy diet is one of the ways to reduce your risk.

“In these tough times, we want to make it easier for families to enjoy an exciting, healthy, budget-friendly diet, so that even when pressed for time and money, eating healthily never feels out of reach. As part of a long running partnership with Diabetes UK we’re urging people to do the Know Your Risk check online.

“Reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes is doable and affordable and a few simple changes can make a big difference.”

While type 2 diabetes is often stigmatised as a condition that people bring on themselves, the risk factors are multiple and complex, and include genetics, family history and ethnicity, as well as living with obesity or overweight, among other factors.

Social deprivation is also an issue. Factors such as income, education, housing, access to healthy food, as well as poorer access to healthcare, have been shown to be strongly linked to an increased risk of developing several health conditions – including obesity and type 2 diabetes. As a result, people who are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes are all-too-often less likely to be able to benefit from support to manage it.

Type 2 diabetes has until recently been quite rare in those aged under 40, and while numbers of under 40s with type 2 diabetes remain a small proportion of total cases, many people – including healthcare professionals – don’t always recognise the symptoms, which include:

• going to the toilet more often, especially at night

• feeling more tired, because your body can't get enough glucose in to your cells for energy

• losing weight without trying

• genital itching or thrush

• cuts and wounds taking longer to heal

• blurred vision

• feeling extremely thirsty

Most people over 18 are eligible to use the free Know Your Risk tool (See notes to editors for exceptions). The tool can be found at:

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