Understanding the Scale of Diabetes in the UK

Diabetes has become one of the biggest health crises facing the UK today. Over 4 million people are estimated to be living with diabetes in the UK, with numbers continuing to rise year on year. This epidemic is placing immense strain on the NHS and requires coordinated action across government, the health service, and society as a whole if we are to turn the tide.

In this comprehensive guide, we will analyse the latest statistics on diabetes prevalence in the UK. We will examine how many people have type 1, type 2 and other forms of diabetes and look at trends in diagnosis rates. A breakdown of diabetes prevalence by gender, ethnicity and region is provided. The guide will also discuss the drivers behind the growth in diabetes rates and why certain groups are more at risk. Finally, we consider what needs to be done to improve diabetes prevention, diagnosis and care across the country.

How Many People Have Diabetes in Total?

  • Over 4.1 million people are estimated to be living with diabetes in the UK as of 2022.
  • This represents over 6% of the UK population.
  • 1 in 15 people in the UK have diabetes.
  • By 2030, it’s projected there will be over 5 million people with diabetes in the UK.

These alarming statistics demonstrate just how widespread diabetes has become in Britain today. The rates have more than doubled over the past two decades, presenting a major public health challenge.

Breakdown of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

There are two main forms of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – Where the body cannot produce any insulin. It is an autoimmune condition and not preventable. Around 10% of diabetes cases are type 1.
  • Type 2 diabetes – Where the body cannot produce enough insulin or the insulin does not work effectively. It accounts for around 90% of diabetes cases and is linked to obesity and lifestyle factors.

The breakdown of cases by type of diabetes in the UK is:

  • Over 3.8 million people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • Around 400,000 people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes
  • Around 850,000 people likely have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes makes up the vast majority of cases. But worryingly, type 1 diabetes rates in children are increasing by 4% per year.

Diabetes Prevalence by Gender and Age

  • Men are at a slightly higher risk of developing diabetes than women – 6.6% of men and 5.8% of women have diabetes.
  • Adults over 40 are much more likely to have diabetes, with rates rising sharply with age due to increased type 2 diabetes risk.
  • 1 in 6 people over 65 have diabetes and 1 in 3 people over 75.

As the UK population ages, diabetes prevalence is expected to rise significantly unless action is taken to tackle obesity and support healthier aging.

Ethnicity and Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes risk varies enormously between ethnic groups:

  • People of South Asian, African Caribbean and Middle Eastern descent are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • 12% of South Asians over 16 have diabetes – one of the highest rates globally.
  • Poor diets and lower physical activity levels help drive higher type 2 diabetes rates among minority ethnic groups.
  • Cultural and language barriers can also limit access to healthcare services and health education.

Tackling ethnic health disparities in diabetes prevalence must be a priority.

Regional Diabetes Hotspots

Diabetes rates vary across the UK:

  • England – 6.4% of over 16s have diabetes. Over 3.8 million people.
  • Scotland – 6.4% of over 16s. Around 291,000 people.
  • Wales – 8.8% of over 16s. Around 191,000 people. Highest diabetes prevalence rate in the UK.
  • Northern Ireland – 6.5% of over 16s. Around 87,000 people.

Certain regions of the UK stand out for high diabetes prevalence, such as the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West of England. Rural areas generally have lower diabetes rates than urban areas. There is a need to target stretched healthcare resources towards diabetes hotspots.

Diagnoses Per Year

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes each year has increased rapidly:

  • In 1996 – 186,000 diagnoses
  • In 2006 – 258,000 diagnoses
  • In 2016 – 342,000 diagnoses
  • In 2021 – over 366,000 diagnoses

If this trend continues, new diagnoses could top 500,000 per year by 2030. This demonstrates failures in diabetes prevention and unhealthy lifestyles driving growth.

Diabetes Impact on Mortality

Diabetes is a deadly disease if not managed properly:

  • Diabetes was the underlying cause of over 26,000 deaths in England in 2020 and involved in many more.
  • People with diabetes are over twice as likely to die from COVID-19.
  • Diabetes complications like cardiovascular and kidney disease account for around half of deaths in people with type 2 diabetes.

There is an urgent requirement to improve care to reduce diabetes-related mortality.

Drivers of the Diabetes Epidemic

The rapid growth in diabetes prevalence in the UK is being driven by:

  • Obesity: 90% of adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. The UK has one of the highest obesity rates globally.
  • Inactive lifestyles: Just 40% of UK adults engage in 30 minutes of physical activity per week. Exercise helps manage diabetes risk.
  • Unhealthy diets: Too much sugar, fat and processed food and low fruit/vegetable intake increase diabetes risk.
  • Aging population: Older people are more prone to type 2 diabetes. The population aged 65+ will grow by 40% by 2030.

Without tackling these drivers, diabetes will continue to spiral out of control.

Preventing and Delaying Diabetes

Given the immense costs and health impacts of diabetes, prevention must be prioritised:

  • Raising public awareness through campaigns on healthy lifestyles and diabetes risk factors.
  • Type 2 diabetes screening for at-risk individuals.
  • Supporting healthier diets and physical activity in schools, workplaces and the NHS. The UK should follow the example of successful initiatives globally.
  • Providing help to reduce obesity through GP referrals, exercise programmes and apps.
  • Greater access to diabetes education across all communities.
  • Focusing on high-risk groups like South Asians and the middle-aged.

Delaying or stopping the onset of type 2 diabetes would transform millions of lives.

Improving Diabetes Care

As well as prevention, the government must take action to improve diabetes care:

  • Increasing funding for NHS diabetes services, which have been cut in recent years.
  • Ensuring quality of care through minimum standards across GP surgeries, clinics and hospitals.
  • Improving access and reducing waiting times for eye and foot screening programmes.
  • Providing new technologies and apps to help diabetics manage their condition day-to-day.
  • Supporting emotional and mental health issues around coping with diabetes through counselling.
  • Focusing care on minimising diabetes complications which drive hospital admissions.

With the right treatment and support, people with diabetes can avoid the worst consequences and lead full lives.


Diabetes has reached epidemic levels in the UK, with over 4 million people currently diagnosed and more undiagnosed. The vast majority have type 2 diabetes, driven by obesity, inactivity and poor diets. Prevalence is rising year on year, placing huge strain on the NHS. Diabetes also leads to tens of thousands of deaths annually in the UK. Certain groups like the elderly and South Asians face higher risk.

Tackling this public health crisis requires focus on prevention, screening, helping people manage their diabetes better through new technology and care standards, and additional funding. Without coordinated national action on preempting and managing diabetes, the human and economic costs for the UK will be colossal.

Frequently Asked Questions on Diabetes in the UK

How many new people are diagnosed with diabetes every year in the UK?

Over 366,000 people were diagnosed with diabetes in the UK in 2021 and this number is rising annually. Obesity driving growth in type 2 diabetes diagnoses.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body cannot produce insulin and is not linked to lifestyle factors. Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body not producing enough insulin or insulin not working effectively, and is linked to obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

Are some ethnic groups more prone to diabetes in the UK?

Yes, people of South Asian, African Caribbean, and Middle Eastern origin are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than white Europeans in the UK.

Are men or women more likely to have diabetes in Britain?

Men have slightly higher diabetes prevalence at 6.6% vs 5.8% among women. Diabetes risk rises sharply for both genders as they age.

Which part of the UK has the highest rates of diabetes?

Wales has the highest diabetes prevalence of the UK nations at 8.8% among those over 16 years old. England has a diabetes rate of 6.4% among over 16s.

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