Increasing obesity rates, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles are driving a surge in type 2 diabetes cases worldwide. In 2021 alone, approximately 537 million adults were living with diabetes globally, with a rising number of diagnoses occurring at younger ages. People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of various health complications, including heart attacks, strokes, kidney problems, and cancer.

Funded by Health Data Research UK, researchers at the University of Cambridge and University of Glasgow examined data from 1.5 million people through two major studies – the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and UK Biobank – to understand the consequences of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes earlier in life.

The findings, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, suggest that the age someone is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes affects their life expectancy. People diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 30 years old were estimated to die up to 14 years sooner than people without the condition, falling to a six-year decrease in life expectancy if diagnosed at the age of 50. Approximately four years of reduced life expectancy was associated with every decade of earlier diagnosis.

Professor Emanuele Di Angelantonio, from the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Heart and Lung Research Institute (VPD-HLRI) at the University of Cambridge, said:

“Type 2 diabetes used to be seen as a disease that affected older adults, but we’re increasingly seeing people diagnosed earlier in life. As we’ve shown, this means they are at risk of a much shorter life expectancy than they would otherwise have.”

Stressing the importance and urgency of preventive measures, Dr Stephen Kaptoge at VPD-HLRI, said:

“Type 2 diabetes can be prevented if those at greatest risk can be identified and offered support – whether that’s to make changes to their behaviour or to provide medication to lower their risk. But there are also structural changes that we as a society should be pursuing, including relating to food manufacturing, changes to the built environment to encourage more physical activity, and so on.


“Given the impact type 2 diabetes will have on people’s lives, preventing – or at least delaying the onset – of the condition should be an urgent priority.”

The research team’s work emphasises the value of data-driven research in tackling global healthcare challenges and was also supported by the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, and NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Read the full paper