Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health indicates the prevalence of diabetes is growing at a faster rate in the UK than in North America, as the number of new cases rocketed an incredible 74% in just six years.

From 1996 to 2005 more than 42,600 new cases of diabetes were diagnosed, and the overall prevalence of the disease jumped from 2.8% of the population to 4.3% over the decade. But growth in new cases was fastest during 1997 to 2003, which indicates that the rate is accelerating.

The number of new cases of Type 1 diabetes remained relatively level over the time period, but it is the substantial hike in the number of Type II diabetics driving the current growth in the disease’s prevalence, with the country’s fattening population a significant factor.

“This research is a sad indictment of the current state of the UK’s health,” said Douglas Smallwood, Diabetes UK Chief Executive. “Sadly, the statistics are not surprising, as we know that the soaring rates of Type II diabetes are strongly linked to the country’s expanding waistline,” he added.

The link between diabetes and obesity has long been established, and research shows that losing weight can slash the risk of developing Type II diabetes by 58%, according to Smallwood. “It is imperative that we raise awareness of the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day if we want to make any headway in defusing the diabetes time bomb,” he stressed.

£1m an hour
The costs associated with diabetes are already huge; a report published by Diabetes UK in October last year revealed that the disease and its complications take up around 10% of National Health Service spend – which equates to a breath-taking £1 million an hour.

The NHS, which is already struggling with stretched resources, is unlikely to be able to cope if the rate of new cases of diabetes continues at this pace. Consequently, the government has put in place several measures to boost the health of the public and help restrain swelling waistlines, most notably its flagship Change4Life campaign, which is designed to encourage a “lifestyle revolution” and aims to pull together thousands of different organisations around the country in a drive to make it easier for people to eat well and exercise more.

Diabetes UK is supporting the Change4Life campaign, but the charity called on the government to play a “major role” in restricting junk food advertising and supporting the traffic light system on food labels, which, it says, “will go a long way in helping people make informed choices” about what to eat.