Diabetes levels rising as British children get fatter

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More overweight and obese children in Britain are developing the type of diabetes that usually comes in old age, according to a report published this week.

More overweight and obese children in Britain are developing the type of diabetes that usually comes in old age, according to a report published this week.

Eighteen centres across the UK have now reported cases of type 2 diabetes in children, according to the study, and doctors warn that unless action is taken to tackle obesity, there will be an explosion in cases over the next decade.

The first cases of type 2 diabetes in children in the UK were diagnosed three years ago by Birmingham Children's Hospital, whose researchers produced the new study. If growth rates of the disease continue, type 2 diabetes will make up as much as 45 per cent of all new cases of diabetes in children over the next 10 to 15 years.

The researchers are calling for VAT on takeaway food, a ban on advertising directed at children, more school sports, and the removal of fizzy drink dispensers from schools.

Type 2 diabetes usually occurs in older adults and is the result of resistance to the effects of insulin. There has been a large rise in incidence in adults over the past 20 years, also associated with the global epidemic of obesity, and it now affects about 4 per cent of all UK adults.

"There is emerging evidence of an appalling outlook for these young people in terms of miscarriages and microvascular and cardiovascular complications, which are likely to present an enormous economic and health services burden over the next 20 years," says the report, published in the Annals of Clinical Biochemistry, the journal of the Association of Clinical Biochemists.

It says that the majority of reported children are adolescent, obese and that 80 per cent are girls. Some ethnic groups appear to be more at risk, and it is known that Asian adults are more insulin-resistant than white Europeans of the same weight.

Long-term research based on 51 Canadian patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before the age of 17, and now aged 18 to 33, shows that seven had died; three others were on dialysis; one became blind at the age of 26 years; and one had had a toe amputation. Out of 56 pregnancies, only 35 had resulted in live births.

More children may have type 2 diabetes than have been diagnosed because in many cases there may be no obvious symptoms. In one centre, half of the cases were found simply because of routine testing.

The report says that the best way to tackle the problem is to develop a public health strategy that encourages healthier lifestyles. "This could include initiatives to get children to walk to school, more time in the national curriculum for sport, and provision of playing fields and sports facilities. In addition, banning advertising directed at children, removing fizzy drink dispensing machines from schools and adding value-added tax to takeaway hot meals."

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