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The Prevalence of Diabetes in the UK (2023)

Written by: Content Team



Time to read 10 min

Obesity and health inequities are crises in the UK. Worryingly, diabetes, a dangerous condition affecting millions across the UK, has become increasingly common among children and adolescents.


This article should give you a comprehensive understanding of the prevalence of diabetes in the UK, its causes and consequences, and how to manage it.

Understanding Diabetes

Finger prick for glucose monitoring. Source: Deposit Photos
Finger prick for glucose monitoring. Source: Deposit Photos

Diabetes is a chronic condition, meaning it is long-lasting and usually incurable. It occurs when the body cannot use or produce insulin properly.


The pancreas produces insulin. It is a hormone that regulates the body’s use and storage of fat and glucose, a simple sugar that serves as the primary energy source for our cells. It is also in charge of assisting our bodies in converting sugar into energy.


Insulin alerts the liver and fat cells to take in glucose from the blood whenever your blood sugar levels are too high. Conversely, it signals the liver to release the stored glucose back into the blood when it is too low.


Heart disease and kidney failure, among other grave health complications, plague people diagnosed with this condition because of their high blood sugar levels. When the body cannot produce enough insulin or becomes resistant, it struggles to maintain a normal blood sugar level.


In the most extreme cases, people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing gangrene due to the nerve damage this condition causes.

Types of Diabetes

The World Health Organisation recognizes three types of diabetes. They are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for 8% of diabetes cases in the UK. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s natural defence system, our immune system, cannot differentiate between our cells and foreign ones and mistakenly attacks them.


The immune system permanently stops insulin production in the pancreas by destroying its cells in people with type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes is mostly diagnosed in children and young adults but can develop at any age. It necessitates daily insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?


No one knows what causes type 1 diabetes. So far, scientists think viral infections and genetic factors are to blame. You also have a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes if it runs in your family.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in the UK.


You become afflicted with this condition once your body becomes incapable of producing enough insulin or becomes resistant to the insulin it produces. Glucose builds up in your blood because your body cannot use it effectively, raising blood sugar levels.


The good news is that this type of diabetes can be avoided; however, it will take a while.

What Causes Type 2 Diabetes?

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes is high among people who struggle with the following health or lifestyle issues:


Gestational Diabetes

Pregnant woman with her doctor reviewing insulin dose. Source: Deposit Photos
Pregnant woman with her doctor reviewing insulin dose.Source: Deposit Photos

This type of diabetes only occurs during pregnancy. It affects some women who did not have diabetes before becoming pregnant and usually goes away after the baby is born. It is caused by the body’s increased need for insulin when carrying a baby.


The concern with gestational diabetes is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women with this type of diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later.

The Prevalence of Diabetes in the UK

According to an article in The Guardian, the UK is experiencing a rapidly escalating diabetes crisis.


This report gave us insights into the UK’s current situation. Worryingly, diabetes is becoming increasingly common; the number of people living with diabetes in the UK topped 5 million for the first time—about 7.43% of the UK population.


Type 2 diabetes is the most prevalent, affecting about 3.8 million people and accounting for about 90% of the cases. Contrastively, about 8% have type 1 diabetes. This translates to approximately 400,000 people across the UK. On the other hand, 2% have different forms of diabetes, such as gestational diabetes or Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adults (LADA).


But these numbers are subject to change, as an estimated 850,000 people live with diabetes, which has yet to be diagnosed. Diabetes UK also urges people to be more aware of their lifestyle choices, as more than 2.4 million people are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


This is especially concerning when you learn that the number of cases is expected to reach 5.3 million by 2025. It prematurely exceeded the estimation of 4.9 million by 2035 that Public Health England made in 2016.

However, diabetes prevalence varies by age, gender, ethnicity, and region in the UK.


Reports have shown that older people are more likely to have diabetes than younger people. Interestingly, men are more likely to have diabetes than women, and racial minorities are more susceptible to it than people of White origin.


People in deprived areas are also more likely to get it. This might explain its prevalence in middle-income countries and among less affluent communities.

The Importance of Understanding The Prevalence of Diabetes in the UK

People without access to proper diabetes care or awareness programs are at a higher risk of developing dangerous health complications. Diabetes UK’s analysis shows that diabetes leads to 184 amputations, more than 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks, and 2,300 cases of heart failure every week.


These analyses also reveal critical social issues that demand immediate action.


The UK is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Diabetes UK reported that 64% of adults in England are overweight or obese. Obesity is a major cause of type 2 diabetes. Besides that, those who struggle with it are also at higher risk of dangerous health complications, including heart disease.


However, we should emphasize that obesity is not the only cause of type 2 diabetes.


Diabetes UK also pointed out that social deprivation is an issue. People with inadequate income, education, healthy food, housing, and healthcare access are reportedly linked to developing several health conditions, with obesity and type 2 diabetes among them.


Such issues transcend personal lifestyle choices; the UK government is responsible for providing adequate healthcare and support systems for such individuals.


But, for what matters, educating such a large population about the importance of a healthy lifestyle can urge them to improve theirs and lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Managing Diabetes: What Can You Do?

Man eating a bowl of healthy fruit. Source: Deposit Photos
Man eating a bowl of healthy fruit. Source: Deposit Photos

The good news is that you can educate yourself. Understanding the causes and risk factors of diabetes is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones.

The Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are similar. However, they might differ in severity and in how quickly they appear. Diabetes types, in general, share the following symptoms:

  • Excessive thirst

  • Frequent urination, especially during the night

  • Weight loss

  • Consistent lethargy

  • Irritation or frequent mood changes

  • Blurry vision

  • Slow-healing sores

  • Frequent infections, especially in the gums, skin, and vagina

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes tend to come on quickly and are more severe than those of type 2. People living with this type may also have:


  • The presence of ketones in the urine, which are a byproduct of the breakdown of muscle and fat that happens with insufficient insulin

  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain

  • Fruity-smelling breath

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of consciousness or coma

Type 2 diabetes develops in adults but is becoming increasingly common in children and adolescents. Its symptoms may be mild or absent at first compared to those of type 1 diabetes. People living with this type may also experience:


  • Dark patches on the skin, especially in the neck, armpits, or groin

  • Tingling, numbness, or pain in the extremities

  • Frequent yeast infections or urinary tract infections

  • Erectile dysfunction or sexual problems

Diagnosing Diabetes

Get diagnosed immediately if you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms. Diabetes affects your blood sugar level. Therefore, doctors will draw your blood for tests. The typical blood tests for diabetes are:

Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG) Test

Doctors measure your blood sugar level after eating nothing for at least eight hours.


  • The average fasting blood sugar level is less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L)

  • A fasting blood sugar level of 100 to 125 mg/dL (5.6 to 6.9 mmol/L) is considered prediabetic

  • A fasting blood sugar level over 126 mg/dL (7 mmol/L) on two separate tests means you have diabetes

A1C Test

Doctors measure your average blood sugar level for two to three months. They measure the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells.


  • An A1C level below 5.7% is considered normal

  • An A1C level between 5.7% and 6.5% is considered prediabetic

  • An A1C level of 6.5% or higher on two separate tests means you have diabetes

Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT)

You will fast for at least eight hours before this test. During it, your doctor will measure your blood sugar level before and after you drink a sweet liquid that contains glucose. You will have your blood drawn before and two hours after you drink the liquid.


  • A blood sugar level of less than 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is normal

  • A reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L and 11 mmol/L) means you have prediabetes

  • A reading of more than 200 mg/dL (11.1 mmol/L) after two hours means you have diabetes

There is hope if you are diagnosed with prediabetes, as you can manage it with a few lifestyle changes.

Managing Prediabetes

Prediabetes is when your blood sugar is higher than average but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. You are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other health issues if you have it.


It results from an unhealthy lifestyle, primarily obesity, a lack of physical activity, and an unhealthy diet. You can manage and even reverse it with lifestyle changes and medication.


We urge you to do the following if you are diagnosed with prediabetes:


  • Eat Healthy Foods: Limit or avoid added sugars, refined grains, processed foods, and trans fats. Switch to a balanced diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These will lower your blood sugar level and prevent spikes and crashes. Here is an example diet

  • Lose Weight: People who struggle with obesity or are overweight are the most susceptible to type 2 diabetes. Losing even a small percentage of your body weight can make a big difference in your insulin resistance and improve your blood sugar levels

  • Be Physically Active: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity weekly. Such frequent exercise will help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol. But the best part is that it will lower your fat levels and improve your insulin sensitivity. This guide by Exercise Is Medicine can help you get started

  • Take Medications: Your doctor will likely prescribe medications to improve your glucose metabolism. Hence, following their instructions and monitoring your levels regularly is best.

Living With Diabetes

Man injecting insulin with the InsuJet needle-free injector
Man injecting insulin with the InsuJet needle-free injector

With proper management and care, you can reduce the symptoms of diabetes or even put it into remission.


Please read as much as you can about your condition and how you can manage it; countless websites offer a wealth of information about this subject. The CDC has a motivating article about living a fulfilling life despite diabetes.


You should also monitor your blood sugar level regularly and record your results to alter your exercise routines or diet accordingly and effectively. We recommend investing in a glucose monitor to help you with this.


Adopt a healthy diet and exercise routine. Never skip taking your medication as prescribed by your doctor. You will either have to take pills or receive daily insulin injections. At InsuJet, we offer a needle-free injector kit for insulin therapy to ensure your comfort and safety; you no longer have to deal with the pain and fear needles bring.


Remember to visit your healthcare team often. They can keep any complications that may arise and your health in check.


Diabetes is a condition like any other. There is no shame in being diabetic, despite any health challenges you may face. Remember that your friends, family, and strangers are there for you. Many support groups and helplines are available for people with diabetes in the UK, and, among other services, they can offer you practical advice and emotional support.


You can keep track of your local diabetes group here, join the support forum, or call the NHS Diabetes Advice helpline on 0345 123 2399.


Living with diabetes can be tiring and terrifying, but it should not demotivate you from pursuing your goals and living a fulfilling life.


Despite its prevalence in the UK, the chief cause of diabetes is enduring unhealthy lifestyle choices, which you can replace with healthier ones.


Many websites and support groups will happily provide information about your condition or financial, physical, or emotional aid; you just need to ask. And if you are diagnosed with diabetes, InsuJet needle-free therapy is the wise and sustainable option for diabetes management.

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