Children as young as eight are showing signs of susceptibility to adult diabetes, scientists have warned.
Symptoms of the type 2 form of the condition, which means the body does not produce enough insulin, were detected in primary school children decades before they were likely to be diagnosed.
Researchers at the University of Bristol analysed blood samples from more than 4,700 people, some of whom were genetically susceptible, when they were aged eight, 16, 18 and 25.
It revealed that those vulnerable to developing diabetes had raised levels of ‘bad cholesterol’, called low density lipoprotein, and less ‘good cholesterol’, known as high density lipoprotein, when they were eight years old.
Dr Joshua Bell, who led the study, said: “It is remarkable we can see signs of adult diabetes in the blood from such a young age.
“Diabetes is most common in older age, but we see signs of disease susceptibility very early on – about 50 years before it is usually diagnosed.
“Knowing what early features of type 2 diabetes look like could help us to intervene much earlier to halt progression to full blown diabetes and its complications.”
Around four million people in the UK have diabetes, around 90 per cent of whom have the type 2 form, which can lead to heart disease, kidney damage and blindness.
The number of youngsters being treated for type 2 diabetes has almost doubled in five years. Some 745 patients were treated in specialist paediatric diabetes clinics in 2018/19, a 47 per cent rise on the 507 cases in 2013/14.
“This does not mean young people ‘already have adult diabetes’,” said Dr Bell.
“These are subtle differences in the metabolism of young people who are more prone to developing it later in life.
“These findings help reveal the biology of how diabetes unfolds and what features may be targetable much earlier on to prevent the onset of disease and its complications.
“This is important because we know that the harmful effects of blood glucose, such as on heart disease, are not exclusive to people with diagnosed diabetes but extend to a smaller degree to much of the population.”
The study was published in the journal Diabetes Care.