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Third of population may have 'pre-diabetes', warn researchers

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More than a third of adults in England now have borderline diabetes, according to researchers, who warn that the trend could result in a steep rise in type 2 diabetes itself.

People are classed as having borderline diabetes, also known as pre-diabetes, when they have higher than normal blood glucose levels. Those with the condition are at high risk of developing diabetes and its associated complications.

“This rapid rise in such a short period of time is particularly disturbing”

Study authors

The prevalence of pre-diabetes in England has tripled in the space of eight years, according to the researchers from the University of Florida.

Their study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that in 2011, 35.3% of people had pre-diabetes – a steep rise from 11.6% in 2003.

The US authors of the study examined data from Health Survey for England for the years 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011 involving thousands of participants.

People were classed as having pre-diabetes if their glycated haemoglobin − a measure of blood glucose control − was between 5.7% and 6.4% and they had not previously been diagnosed with diabetes.

The results showed an “extremely rapid rise” in pre-diabetes, the researchers said. People from poorer backgrounds were found to be at “substantial risk”, they added.

“There has been a marked increase in the proportion of adults in England with pre-diabetes,” they wrote in their journal paper.

“The socio-economically deprived are at substantial risk. In the absence of concerted and effective efforts to reduce risk, the number of people with diabetes is likely to increase steeply in coming years.”

They added: “This rapid rise in such a short period of time is particularly disturbing because it suggests that large changes on a population level can occur in a relatively short period of time.

“If there is no coordinated response to the rise in pre-diabetes, an increase in numbers of people with diabetes will ensue, with consequent increase in health expenditure, morbidity and cardiovascular mortality.”

The authors, who were led by Professor Arch Mainous, said their findings had important implications on the NHS Health Check and other public health interventions across England.

“A tenth of the NHS budget is already being spent on diabetes”

Barbara Young

Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “We need to make sure those at high risk are made aware of this so that they can get the advice and support they need to make the lifestyle changes that can help reduce this.

Barbara Young

“Programmes such as the NHS Health Check are already doing an important job in assessing people’s risk, by measuring weight and waist, as well as looking at family history and ethnicity. But at the moment not everyone who is eligible for this check is getting one and we need this to change,” she said.

She added: “A tenth of the NHS budget is already being spent on diabetes and unless we get much better at preventing type 2 diabetes this spending will soon rise to unsustainable levels.”

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