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Rising rates of Type 2 diabetes in young women

By Patricia Nicholson

Type 2 diabetes was once thought of as a condition that affected older people. Now, this chronic disease is targeting a different age profile.

“The chance of being diagnosed with diabetes increases with age,” says Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, scientist at the Women’s College Research Institute and endocrinologist at Women’s College Hospital.

“However we have seen a greater rise in diabetes diagnosis amongst young people over the last decade.”

Diabetes rates have doubled in recent years, and this increase is significantly affecting young women. This means that women are now living with the disease for a longer portion of their lives, and that more women in their child-bearing years are being diagnosed, which could increase pregnancy complications.

Risk factors

“Women under the age of 50 have a two to five per cent risk of being diagnosed with diabetes,” says Dr. Lipscombe. “But due to a change of lifestyle this rate is increasing as obesity rates are rising.”

Lifestyle factors that can influence a young woman’s diabetes risk include:

  • poor diet
  • lack of activity
  • weight gain

These lifestyle factors can be modified to help reduce diabetes risk. However, other risk factors cannot be changed. These include:

  • family history
  • high-risk ethnicity, such as South Asian, Aboriginal, Latin American, and African
  • history of gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy)

Reducing risks

Younger women can also decrease their risk of diabetes by adopting a well-balanced lifestyle, including:

  • getting at least 150 minutes of regular exercise per week
  • maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) of less than 25
  • following a well-balanced diet

Pregnancy and diabetes

Having diabetes increases the risk of pregnancy complications, which may compromise the health of the baby. Dr. Lipscombe advises women with diabetes who are thinking about getting pregnant to visit their doctor to ensure their health is optimal for a safe pregnancy. The doctor should check:

  • blood sugar
  • eyes
  • kidneys
  • medications

Taking the necessary precautions before pregnancy reduces a woman’s risk of diabetes-related pregnancy complications and birth defects.

Shifting trends

The most recent trends in diabetes rates reinforce the notion that this chronic disease can target women in every age group.

“A lot of young people don’t think they are at risk of Type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Lipscombe. “However there are more young people being diagnosed every day. It is crucial for all women to be aware of the risk factors and maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 15, 2014

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