Soaring obesity levels among children have led to a “concerning climb” in the number diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a charity has said.
Diabetes UK warned that the cost-of-living crisis could lead to further problems in years to come.
High levels of obesity and a squeeze on personal finances are creating a “perfect storm which risks irreversible harm to the health of young people”, the charity warned.
It accused the Government of “letting our children down” as it called for concerted action to tackle obesity.
Demand for care for those with type 2 diabetes at paediatric diabetes units across England and Wales has increased by more than 50% in the last five years, according to the charity’s analysis.
It comes after a big leap in the proportion of youngsters who are obese.
Figures for England show the proportion of children in reception class – those aged four and five – who are obese increased by 46% between 2019/20 and 2020/21 – from one in 10 children being obese in their first year of school to one in seven.
Diabetes UK said that children in the most deprived parts of England and Wales were “disproportionately affected” by the disease, with four in 10 children and young people with type 2 diabetes living in the poorest areas, compared to only one in 19 from the richest.
This echoes data for childhood obesity prevalence, it added.
The charity said that in light of the additional burden of the cost-of-living crisis, the poorest children will “bear the brunt for decades to come”.
#Obesity is a common problem in the UK affecting around 1 in every 4 adults and 1 in every 5 children aged 10 and 11. It can cause numerous health-related issues, such as type 2 #diabetes and #cancer.
— NHS North East London CCG (City and Hackney) (@NHS_CityHackney) February 9, 2022
Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “We are very concerned that this spike in childhood obesity will translate into an even greater increase in children with type 2 diabetes in the coming years, a crisis fuelled by long-standing health inequalities and made worse still by impacts of the cost-of-living crisis.
“Government needs to entirely rethink its commitment to child health.
“This must start with urgently reversing the decision to backtrack on their obesity strategy commitments and go further still with bold steps to address childhood obesity and poorer outcomes for children living in poverty in the forthcoming Health Disparities White Paper.
“The UK Government is letting our children down.
“With soaring numbers of children now living with obesity, and numbers diagnosed with type 2 diabetes on a very concerning climb, we are facing a perfect storm which risks irreversible harm to the health of young people.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Obesity costs the NHS an estimated £6.5 billion per year and is the second biggest cause of cancer, and we are taking urgent action to halve childhood obesity by 2030.
“This includes encouraging people to choose healthier food options through introducing calorie labelling in large restaurants, cafes and takeaways, supporting families through schemes such as Healthy Start, and rules on the placement of less healthy products in stores and online to help reduce children’s over-consumption.
“In addition, since 2016 the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has helped over a million people receive support for healthy behavioural changes to avoid type 2 diabetes.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Ensuring patients can access diagnosis and treatment easily in their communities and on high streets is a fundamental part of our 10-Year Cancer Plan.
“Harnessing ground-breaking innovations such as this will save lives and help us achieve our ambition of being the best place in Europe for cancer care.
“This will also build on the progress we are making to tackle the Covid backlog, already delivering over one million additional scans through over 90 new community diagnostic centres and halving the number of people on the longest waiting lists in the last four months.”