A charity has called on politicians to tackle "our broken food environment" amid an "alarming" increase in cases of Type 2 diabetes among young people.

The charity estimates that the number of adults under 40 in Scotland diagnosed with the condition has climbed by 32%, from 6,293 in 2016/17 to 8,338 in 2022/23.

The incidence has risen roughly twice as fast among young adults compared to the general population, with cases of diabetes as a whole - including the rarer Type 1 - up by just 16% overall during the same period.

Type 2 diabetes has historically been associated with older people, and still remains relatively rare - accounting of 2.5% of the known cases in Scotland.


However, the condition is known to have more severe and acute consequences in people under 40 and, without the right treatment and support, it can lead to serious complications such as kidney failure and heart disease. 

Those who develop type 2 diabetes at a younger age are also more likely to die prematurely.

Similar patterns are being seen nationally, with cases of diabetes among under-40s up by 39% UK-wide since 2016.

In a report to be unveiled at the Houses of Parliament today, charity Diabetes UK said the figures were a "wake up call" as it urged the UK Government and policy makers to seize "a generational opportunity" to tackle the crisis with a range of measures, including addressing the factors causing obesity and health inequalities.

It calls for all political parties to commit to:

  • Better access to green space; affordable, healthy food; and quality housing.
  • A commitment to introduce restrictions around junk food promotions
  • Increased long-term investment in targeted support programmes for those most at risk of diabetes

John Kinnear, National Director, Diabetes Scotland said: “The rise in diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in people under 40 in Scotland and across the UK is alarming.

“It’s a damning indictment of the barriers that many of us face to living a healthy life, where good food is affordable, and exercise is accessible.

“There is a generational opportunity to stop this crisis in its tracks and we are calling on all political parties to seize it.

"We need bold action to reverse the rising trend in type 2 diabetes, overturn our broken food environment and give every child and young person the best possible chance to grow up in good health."

The Herald: Cases of Type 2 diabetes across the UK in under-40sCases of Type 2 diabetes across the UK in under-40s (Image: DiabetesUK)

The Herald: Total known diabetes cases - Types 1 and 2 - all ages, across UKTotal known diabetes cases - Types 1 and 2 - all ages, across UK (Image: DiabetesUK)The Scottish Government is currently consulting again on proposals to restrict retail price promotions on products high in fat, sugar and salt - plans which were delayed during the pandemic and then sent back to the drawing board in the wake of the cost of living crisis and inflation.

Mr Kinnear said the charity "looks forward to robust legislation that supports people to eat well and have a healthy weight", adding: “The decisions taken now will not only determine the health of young people today, but also the next generation.”

There are also concerns that many people may be living with undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

A recent report by the Office for National Statistics estimated that, in England, 50% of those aged 16 to 44 with the condition had not yet received a diagnosis.

If that was also the case in Scotland, it would suggest that thousands of young people have developed diabetes without knowing about it.

There is no single cause for Type 2 diabetes, but genetics, age, ethnicity, bodyweight and individual physiology - if you are predisposed to store fat around your middle, for example, are all factors.

It comes amid growing concerns about the number of working age adults who have dropped out of the labour force due to ill health.

A recent study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity last week, found that people who are overweight and obese - major risk factors for the onset of Type 2 diabetes - were significantly more likely to take sick leave from work than healthy weight colleagues.