One likely effect of the growing number of young people with type 2 diabetes is that more and more people in their 20s and 30s are developing serious eye problems not correctable with glasses.
"We've all been aware that obesity and type 2 diabetes go hand in hand, but now there is added evidence of an increase in eye diseases," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser. "Unless we can stem the tide of obesity and defer the onset of diabetes, the younger population may be facing other diabetes complications as well."
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and elsewhere analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing, nationally representative study of the nation's health. The Hopkins team compared the results of questionnaires, laboratory tests, and physical examinations taken by 9,471 men and women age 20 or older from 1999 to 2002, with results from 10,480 subjects from 2005 to 2008.
They found an increase in both diabetes diagnosed for 10 or more years, and worsening vision among non-Hispanic whites ages 20 to 39. "If the current finding becomes a persisting trend, it could result in increasing rates of disability in the U.S. population, including greater numbers of patients with end-organ diabetic damage who would require ophthalmic care," the researchers concluded. The article was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings should spur new efforts to prevent the underlying causes that lead to diabetes and its complications such as obesity-prevention programs aimed at children and adolescents, wrote David C. Musch, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Thomas W. Gardner, M.D., M.S., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in an accompanying editorial.
Bottom line: If left unchecked, the combination of an increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes in younger individuals and the longer duration of the condition will lead to many more young people living with serious vision loss, among other related problems. See our diabetes toolkit for advice on steps you or a family member can take to prevent and manage the disease, based on survey data from more than 5,000 people with diabetes.