Both obesity and type 2 diabetes have been on the rise in adolescents and young adults over the last 30-40 years. While the potential long-term consequences of obesity have been well documented, scientists are now beginning to study the effects of an early type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
Researchers in Sweden recently conducted the first study comparing the excess risks of death from or developing heart disease in those with type 2 diabetes while adjusting the risk based on how long one has had diabetes, and their findings were concerning.
Funded by The Swedish Association of Local Authorities Regions, Swedish Heart and Lung Foundation, and Swedish Research Council, researchers analyzed 15 years of data from the Swedish National Diabetes Registry for this study. The researchers followed 318,083 people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and 1,575,108 age, sex, and county-matched people as a control group from 1998-2013 for heart-related conditions. They looked specifically at deaths caused by heart disease or a related condition from 1998-2014.
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Those with type 2 diabetes and similar aged controls were assessed for their risk of developing heart disease, stroke, heart attack, heart failure and atrial fibrillation. A median follow-up of five years showed those participants diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before age 40 had the greatest risk for mortality and developing all five heart-related conditions.
"If you develop diabetes around 20 or 30, you're set to lose a decade in life, whereas developing diabetes above 80 is unlikely to lose you any years at all," Naveer Sattar MD PhD, the lead author of the study, told EatingWell.
Young women were especially likely to develop cardiovascular disease and have a higher mortality risk. The researchers noted diabetes diagnoses later in life saw a steady decline in these risks.
"For a woman to develop diabetes, she has to put on more weight in the first place than a man does," Sattar said. "This is because women tend to be protected from diabetes compared to men due to where they put on their fat. Women's risk factors therefore go up when they develop diabetes."
Sattar said if you are at risk for diabetes for any reason and your weight is creeping up in middle age, then making small diet changes and getting back to a healthy weight can go a long way to lessen your risk—or delay it for many years. He noted that even if you do develop diabetes later in life, you have still likely reduced your risk of heart disease or other conditions associated with diabetes.
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The researchers of this study noted this analysis was comprised of a mostly white population, and more research needs to be done on the health implications of an early type 2 diabetes diagnosis on other populations.
The bottom line: More than 100 million Americans suffer from type 2 diabetes, but the disease is both reversible and preventable. Sattar said the biggest takeaway from this study is that younger onset diabetes is far more harmful than for older adults, and we have to help people avoid developing diabetes and adopt much healthier diets. Check out our Diabetes Diet Center for more tips, resources, and recipes for managing and preventing diabetes.