• Nearly 2 million people in England have been diagnosed with non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
  • The NHS warns that the problem could become even worse with rising obesity levels.
  • Around half a million people have been referred to the NHS's diabetes prevention programme.

A record number of people are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, increasing their chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke, the NHS has warned.

A “growing obesity crisis” has led to nearly two million people in England being exposed to the condition that causes the level of sugar in the blood to become too high.

As part of efforts to tackle the problem, a radical new liquid diet will be available on the NHS to put type 2 diabetes into remission. Five thousand patients will be restricted to 800 calories per day for three months in a pilot to be rolled out from April. This will be followed by a further nine months of support to help them maintain weight loss.

According to new NHS figures, there are 1,969,610 patients registered with a GP who have non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, a condition that puts people at risk of type 2 diabetes. The health service warned the problem could become greater still due to the rise in obesity levels.

Read more about diabetes:

Projections indicate the growing number of diabetes sufferers could lead to 39,000 extra people suffering a heart attack in 2035 and more than 50,000 experiencing a stroke. One in six hospital beds is now occupied by someone with diabetes, the NHS said.

The most common form of diabetes, type 2 is caused by problems with how the hormone insulin breaks down glucose in the body. The lifelong condition can cause excessive thirst, a need to frequently urinate and tiredness. It can also increase the risk of serious problems with eyes, heart and nerves, and is often linked to being overweight or inactive.

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According to the NHS, there were more than a million obesity diagnoses in hospital admissions last year, up from 884,000 the year before.

The NHS’s world-first diabetes prevention programme is doubling its capacity to prevent people developing the condition. The programme identifies people at high risk of diabetes and supports them to live healthier lives and stop or delay the onset of illness through courses that last between nine and 12 months.

It has received around half a million referrals, with patients so far losing a combined weight of 43 ambulances.

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NHS chief executive Simon Stevens warned that “bulging waistlines” are leading to the rise in people living with type 2. He added: “Unless many more of us make a change, obesity-related illnesses will end up costing hundreds of thousands more lives and billions of pounds in higher treatment costs.”

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS national clinical director for obesity and diabetes, said the “stark figures” also showed the problem is not limited to the middle-aged or elderly people, with about 115,000 younger people suffering type 2 or at risk of developing the condition.


Chris Askew, chief executive at Diabetes UK, said: “More than half of all cases of type 2 diabetes − and the devastating complications it can lead to − could be prevented or delayed by supporting people to reduce their risk by losing weight where appropriate, eating healthy food and being more active.”

Are processed foods making us obese?

Obesity rates have risen sharply in recent decades, for which many blame the ‘obesogenic’ environment we live in. Processed foods – high in calories which tend to come mostly from sugar – are cheap and widely available, and there’s less need to be physically active, due to the automation of many jobs and the rise of screen-based entertainment.

However, if that were the case, wouldn’t we all be overweight?

What’s actually happened, though, is that the distribution of body weight has shifted. People have become heavier overall, but the change is greatest at the upper end: a much larger proportion of people now have ‘morbid’ obesity – a very high body mass index (BMI) that comes with a host of associated health problems.

This suggests that if an obesogenic environment does exist, its main effect is to make people who were already predisposed to obesity become disproportionately heavier.


Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.