Surge in Type 2 Diabetes Cases in Young People in Canada

by Barbara Hewitt on January 29, 2015

Type 2 diabetes has drastically increased in people under 30 in Canada and surpassed type 1 diabetes for the first time, a new study has found.

The majority of young people under 30 with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, the study by researchers at Providence Health Care in Toronto shows. A breakdown of the figures reveals that 62% are white, 86% South Asian and 87% Chinese.

‘Although this study did not look at causes of diabetes in the young, the rising rates of obesity, high calorie, high sugar diets, and increased sedentariness are likely the root causes of this surge in type 2 diabetes in those under 30,’ said senior author Dr. Nadia Khan, a researcher with the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences at PHC and an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Medicine.

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Type 2 diabetes is a growing health problem in Canada, increasing the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and a significant risk factor for early death

Researchers also uncovered what they described as ‘alarming’ findings about rates of type 2 diabetes cases, especially for South Asians, who had higher incidences of type 2 diabetes compared with both Chinese and White people.

In those aged 20 to 29, new cases of type 2 diabetes were 2.2 times higher in South Asians than in White people and 3.1 times higher in South Asians compared with Chinese people.

‘South Asians are three to five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the general population. This study suggests that this increased risk of type 2 diabetes may begin as early as age 20,’ said Dr. Parmjit Sohal, co-author and Clinical Associate Professor in the UBC Department of Family Practice.

Type 2 diabetes, caused mostly by obesity and physical inactivity, has generally been considered a disease of older adults, typically occurring in people 35 years and older.

Although the rates for youth remain much lower than in older patients, type 2 diabetes is a growing health problem, doubling the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and a significant risk factor for early death.

Previous studies have shown that younger people are experiencing rapid increases in cases of type 2 diabetes with 45% of new diabetes cases in adolescents type 2 compared to just 3% 20 years ago.

‘Over the last few decades, lifestyles have changed dramatically. Many now live in urbanised environments where people are generally less active, and eat more high calorie foods. These changes have led to an astounding increase of young people with diabetes,’ said Dr. Calvin Ke, first author and a resident in Internal Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital. ‘We need to act urgently to prevent diabetes in young people,’ he added.

The research points out that type 2 diabetes can be controlled and prevented, or at least delayed, with proper nutrition and exercise. The researchers believe these increased rates in youth are a signal that we need to encourage healthy lifestyles beginning in childhood in order to prevent these diseases.

‘Current Clinical Practice Guidelines recommend that screening for type 2 diabetes should start at age 40 in the general population. This study suggests that screening for type 2 diabetes in high risk South Asians may need to start at younger ages,’ said Dr. Khan.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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