Type 2 Diabetes Diagnosis by Age 30 Can Reduce Life Expectancy by 14 Years, Study Finds

Ground Picture/Shutterstock

New research estimates that a diagnosis of diabetes by 30 can decrease a patient's life expectancy by up to 14 years, and those diagnosed by age 50 could have a reduced life expectancy by six years. According to the study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, these findings highlight the need for interventions to prevent and delay the condition's onset.

In recent years, rates of diabetes have skyrocketed, with 537 million people estimated to have the disease worldwide in 2021, the study explained. Due to high rates of obesity, poor diet, and sedentary behavior, younger patients are increasingly being diagnosed with the condition, which traditionally affects middle-aged and older adults.

"Type 2 diabetes used to be seen as a disease that affected older adults, but we're increasingly seeing people diagnosed earlier in life. As we've shown, this means they are at risk of a much shorter life expectancy than they would otherwise have,” said Emanuele Di Angelantonio, MD, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Heart and Lung Research Institute (VPD-HLRI), University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to various health complications, including heart attack, stroke, kidney problems, and cancer. Previous research estimates that the disease can decrease life expectancy by six years. For this study, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow sought to explore how a patient’s age at diagnosis impacts their life expectancy.

Investigators examined data from two major international studies, including the Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration and the U.K. Biobank, which involved a combined 1.5 million individuals. The analysis showed that the earlier a patient was diagnosed, the more their life expectancy decreased.

Using data from the U.S. population, researchers estimated that those diagnosed at age 30, 40, and 50 died on average 14, 10, and 6 years earlier, respectively. The findings based on the U.K. population were similar; using the same ages, 30, 40, and 50, patients died an average of 13, 9, and 5 years earlier.

Researchers attributed the majority of the reduction in life expectancy to deaths related to heart attack, stroke, and aneurysms. Other complications like cancer were also factored into a reduced life expectancy for some patients.

To study author Stephen Kaptoge, MD, of the VPD-HLRI, these results underscore the importance of diabetes prevention and treatment. "Type 2 diabetes can be prevented if those at greatest risk can be identified and offered support -- whether that's to make changes to their behavior or to provide medication to lower their risk. But there are also structural changes that we as a society should be pursuing, including relating to food manufacturing, changes to the built environment to encourage more physical activity, and so on,” he said. "Given the impact type 2 diabetes will have on people's lives, preventing -- or at least delaying the onset -- of the condition should be an urgent priority."