A rise in levels of diabetes in East Lancashire has been linked to poor diets and obesity, new data suggests.

A study from Diabetes UK said people face a more aggressive and acute form of diabetes when it develops at a younger age, with thousands of people and children living undiagnosed with the condition across the country.

There are two main forms of diabetes - Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood and its causes are unknown. It is an autoimmune disease in which cells which create insulin are destroyed by the immune system.

Type 2 diabetes normally occurs due to obesity and a lack of exercise, and some groups are genetically more at risk of developing it.

It can usually be prevented by eating a healthy, balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and doing exercise regularly.

The two East Lancs boroughs with the highest levels of overweight people are Hyndburn and Pendle.

In Pendle, 72.7 per cent of adults were overweight in 2022/23, the highest rate since 2015 when it was 60.2 per cent, and up five per cent from the year before.

In Hyndburn, 72.4 per cent of adults were overweight or obese in 2022/23, up from 71.7 per cent the year before and an almost 10 per cent rise since 2015.

In Rossendale, 65.1 per cent of adults are overweight, a number that has remained constant in recent years.

Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, and the Ribble Valley all saw their obesity rates fall in 2022/23, but in all at least half of adults are overweight.

In Blackburn with Darwen the figure is 60.9 per cent, down eight per cent from the year before and its lowest figure since 2015, while in Burnley the 63.5 per cent figure is a 10 per cent drop from the year before and the lowest rate since 2017/18.

The Ribble Valley remains the borough with the lowest figures, at 59.4 per cent, down from a spike to 66.7 per cent a year earlier. Besides 2021/22, the figure in the valley has remained stable since 2015.

These high levels of overweight adults are reflected in the number of adults with diabetes, which across Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care Board's region have risen year-on-year since 2009.

In 2022/23, across Lancs and South Cumbria 7.9 per cent of adults have diagnosed diabetes, up 0.3 per cent from the previous year and 0.8 per cent since 2015. In 2009/10, the figure was 5.8 per cent.

The report from Diabetes UK argues 'drastic changes' over the last 25 years to the food people eat and the environments they live in are taking their toll.

“We are bombarded by adverts for cheaper, unhealthy food,” it said.

“The foods on our shelves are increasingly high in fat, salt and sugar, and rising costs are pushing a healthy diet out of reach for millions.

“These conditions, combined with genetic factors and stark inequalities, are driving rising levels of obesity, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“When type 2 diabetes develops at a younger age, defined here as under 40, it is more acute and aggressive.

“It is also associated with an increased risk of more rapid onset of devastating complications such as heart disease, kidney disease, sight loss and even an early death.”

The Diabetes UK report also stated: “We estimate nearly 168,000 people under the age of 40 are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the UK, with nearly 150,000 people under 40 diagnosed in England alone.”

Thousands more are living with the condition undiagnosed, with analysis suggesting half of people aged 16 to 44 with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have it, the report said.

It also said that until 25 years ago, type 2 diabetes in children had never been identified in the UK, but it is “now rising rapidly”.

The study said: “People with type 2 diabetes under 40 are more likely to be living with obesity than those in older age groups. This is especially pronounced in children.

“81 per cent of children registered with type 2 diabetes aged 18 and under are living with obesity and 10 per cent with overweight.”

The study also points to “gross inequalities”, with people from the most deprived areas and those from black and South Asian backgrounds more likely to develop diabetes.

Diabetes UK said the number of people living with diabetes in the UK now tops 5.6 million.

It is calling for the Government to “put the building blocks of health in place for every child and young person, including access to green space, affordable, healthy food, and quality housing”.

It called for planned restrictions on junk food advertising to be introduced and for further work to expand the sugar tax on soft drinks.

Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “Diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in people under 40 are rising to alarming levels.

“It’s a damning indictment of the barriers that many of us face to living a healthy life, where good food is affordable, and exercise isn’t a luxury.

“There is a generational opportunity to stop this crisis in its tracks and we are calling on all political parties to seize it.

“We need bold action to reverse the rising trend in type 2 diabetes, overturn our broken food environment and give every child and young person the best possible chance to grow up in good health.

“The decisions taken now will not only determine the health of young people today, but also the next generation.”

A spokesman for NHS England said: “Obesity leads to a range of serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, so it’s concerning but not surprising that we’re seeing an increase in the condition as obesity levels rise.

“The NHS has invested significantly in services to help people prevent, manage and, in some cases, reverse type 2 diabetes, including specific support for people under the age of 40 – but it is clear that reversing this trend requires concerted action across industry, government and society to tackle obesity.”