Diabetes can lead to almost a decade of disability – and knock more than three years off life expectancy, according to new research.

It means the NHS is facing a health time bomb as the obesity epidemic leads to one in three young people likely to develop it in future.

The devastating condition causes blood vessel complications that affect eyesight and also movement problems and amputations, along with a decline in brain functioning as people age.

Scientists monitored patients in Australia with both type 1 diabetes and type 2, the form linked with obesity, and found the estimated loss of life expectancy (LE) was 3.2 years for men and 3.1 years for women, compared with the general public.

In addition, the estimated loss of disability free life expectancy (DFLE) was 9.1 years for women and 8.2 years for men.

Professor Diana Magliano, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, said: ” The striking loss of DFLE in diabetes reported in this study is likely to raise concern about the burden of diabetes in future decades, indicating a need to respond by implementing intervention and prevention of disability.”

The estimated LE and DFLE at age 50 years were 30.2 and 12.7 years, respectively, for male patients, and 33.9 and 13.1 years, respectively, for women.

Women with diabetes spent a greater proportion of their life with disability from 50 (61%) compared to men (58%), women without diabetes (40%) and men without diabetes (38%).

At this age the estimated years lived with disability accounted for about 60 percent of total LE for those with diabetes and around 40 percent for those without.
The research published in Diabetologia said are more than 400 million people with diabetes worldwide, with almost all countries reporting sharp increases in total cases in recent decades.

It used data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study to determine diabetes rates in Australia, and disability data was used from the 2012 Australian Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).

Mortality data were available by linking the National Diabetes Service Scheme to National Death Index for diabetes and from standard national mortality datasets for the general population. The authors then produced estimates on both life expectancy and the amount of time spent disability free.

Prof Magliano and colleagues said if diabetes did not exist the gains in LE and DFLE across the whole population at the age of 50 would be 0.6 years and 1.8 years, respectively.

She added: “Evidence has shown the loss of muscle mass and strength in patients with diabetes may potentially be improved with insulin sensitisers.

“In 2012, the Look AHEAD trial found that intensive lifestyle intervention with a focus on weight loss and physical activity reduced the incidence of physical disability by half among overweight or obese adults with diabetes.

“Nonetheless, further research is still needed to explore other mechanisms, for example related to obesity or lack of physical activity, which lead to disability in diabetes. This will help inform strategies to prevention and control disability in those with diabetes.”

The study follows findings by the same team earlier this month which found children with type 1 diabetes, which unlike type 2 is not linked to lifestyle but caused by the immune system destroying insulin producing cells, die an average 12 years earlier.

It is currently estimated around 3.8 million people have diabetes in the UK, including 850,000 who have type 2 diabetes but don’t even realise.

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