The number of children and teenagers being treated for 2 diabetes in England and Wales has risen by 14% in a year, councils have warned, which they said reinforced the need for action on obesity.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, described the continuing rise in cases of type 2 diabetes in children as “a hugely disturbing trend”.
“This highlights the need to take urgent action on this major public health time bomb”
It said it was an important reminder of one of the biggest public health challenges the country faces, ahead of the first anniversary of the publication of the government’s childhood obesity plan.
According to latest figures for 2015-16, 621 children and young people under the age of 25 received care for type 2 diabetes from paediatric diabetes units in England and Wales, of which 78.5% were obese.
Fifteen of the children with type 2 were aged between five and nine, according to the figures from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
The number for 2015-16 represents an increase of 76 on the number for 2014-15 and is equivalent to a 12% rise.
However, the LGA noted that, as the figures only related to paediatric practice, and not, for example, primary care, the actual number of young people with type 2 diabetes was likely to be even higher.
It said it wanted to emphasise the urgency of stepping up efforts to tackle child obesity and called on the government – as a minimum – to reverse the cuts to councils’ public health budgets of £531m.
“It’s shocking that children are having to struggle with a condition that could have been prevented”
The budget cuts had impaired councils’ ability to tackle childhood obesity and prevent associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes from developing in the first place, the LGA claimed.
It added that more also needed to be done to reach out to black and minority ethnic groups, where there was a disproportionately higher number of children and young people with type 2 diabetes.
The first cases of type 2 diabetes in children were diagnosed in overweight girls of Asian ethnic origin in 2000 and first reported in white adolescents in 2002.
Meanwhile, latest data from the National Child Measurement Programme showed 9.3% of reception children and 19.8% of those in year 6 were obese in 2015-16.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said the figures showed a “hugely disturbing trend”.
“Obesity is usually linked with major health conditions later on in life, but already we are seeing the devastating consequences at an early age,” she noted.
“This highlights the need to take urgent action on this major public health time bomb,” she said. “It is vital that the measures in the childhood obesity plan improve the health of young people.”
Libby Dowling, senior clinical advisor for Diabetes UK, said: “It is extremely worrying that more young people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
“Some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes are out of our control, but we can do something about being overweight or obese which is one of the most significant risk factors,” she said. “It’s shocking that children are having to struggle with a condition that could have been prevented.
“The government needs to take decisive action to make the healthy choice the easy choice, including stronger regulation on junk food marketing to children and supporting the reformulation of foods to reduce sugar and saturated fat,” she added.