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One third of adults in England have 'prediabetes'

The rate of prediabetes in adults in England has trebled in the last 10 years, according to research published today.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open suggests that blood sugar levels in a third of the adult population are at the high end of the healthy range, increasing the risk of circulatory, kidney and eye problems.

Prediabetes is a major risk factor for disease, with an estimated 5–10% of those with the condition progressing to Type II diabetes, along with its associated complications such as diabetic retinopathy.

Using data from the Health Survey for England, researchers from the University of Florida looked at adults (aged 16 and over) in England without previous diabetes diagnosis. An average sample size of 5,034 was taken across four periods (2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011) and glycated haemoglobin was used as a measure, with prediabetes defined as the range of 5.7–6.4%.

The study shows a steep increase in the incidence of adults with prediabetes from 2003 to 2011, with rates jumping from 11.6% to 35.3%. The highest prevalence was found to be in over 40s who were overweight (a BMI of 25 or more), with over half having the condition (50.6%) – there was no significant difference between men and women.

The authors highlight that the research did not take into account whether participants were screened for diabetes or highlighted as at risk. They write: "This rapid rise in such a short period of time is particularly disturbing because it suggests that large changes on a population level can occur in a relatively short period of time."

They warn: "If there is no co-ordinated response to the rise in prediabetes, an increase in numbers of people with diabetes will ensue, with consequent increase in health expenditure, morbidity and cardiovascular mortality."

The research has received a strong response from UK charities. Chief executive of Diabetes UK, Barbara Young, said: "Having high enough blood glucose levels to be classified as having prediabetes leaves people at a significantly increased risk of developing Type II diabetes, which is a lifelong condition that already affects more than three million people and can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, amputation and blindness."

"We need to make sure those at high risk are made aware of this so that they can get the advice and support they need to make the lifestyle changes that can help reduce this," said Ms Young, adding that "up to 80% of Type II diabetes could be avoided or delayed by making these kinds of changes."

Clara Eaglen, Eye Health Campaigns Manager at RNIB, said: "Today's story further underlines concerns that the number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically as there is a growing incidence in key underlying causes of sight loss such as diabetes.

"Not everyone who has diabetes develops an eye complication, and most of the complications that diabetes causes in the eye can be treated, but it is vital that they are diagnosed early. If you have diabetes your GP or hospital clinic should arrange for you to have annual retinal screening."


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