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Rising rates of Type 2 diabetes in young women

By Micaella DiFelice

Young people have typically been affected by Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition affecting 10 per cent of diabetes cases. However Type 2 diabetes, a disease that was once considered to only affect older people, is now targeting a different age profile.

Diabetes rates have doubled in the last 12 years and this increase is significantly affecting young women. This means that women are now living longer with the disease, and more women in their child-bearing years are being diagnosed, which could increase pregnancy complications.

Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, scientist at the Women’s College Research Institute and endocrinologist at Women’s College Hospital explains to Women’s Health Matters what has led to this increase, the risks that young women should be aware of, as well as the necessary precautions involved for pregnancy.

“The chance of being diagnosed with diabetes increases with age,” says Dr. Lipscombe. “However we have seen a greater rise in diabetes diagnosis amongst young people over the last decade.”

Dr. Lipscombe agrees that this is especially true for diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, the more common type of diabetes that typically affects people over the age of 35.

The alarming increase in diabetes diagnosis among young women may also be partly due to more frequent doctor visits made by women in their child bearing years who are concerned about fertility and the steps to take before and during pregnancy.  Dr. Lipscombe notes that some young women who are pre disposed to diabetes are being diagnosed more often in these situations.

“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.”

Type 2 diabetes risk increases with changes in lifestyle habits. Dr. Lipscombe lists the following factors that can influence a young woman’s predisposition to the disease.

  • poor diet
  • lack of activity
  • weight gain

While obesity and other lifestyle changes can increase one’s risk of diabetes, Dr. Lipscombe notes that weight gain is not the only influencing factor. Some people have a pre disposition to diabetes for other reasons, which include:

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

Women who have or who are predisposed to diabetes have a greater risk of pregnancy complications, which may compromise the health of the baby. Dr. Lipscombe advises young women who are thinking about getting pregnant to visit their doctor for the following tests to ensure their health is optimal for a safe pregnancy: 

  • blood sugar
  • eyes
  • kidney
  • medication approval

By taking the necessary precautions before pregnancy, women will endure fewer challenges during pregnancy and will also help reduce the risk of birth defects.  

Women in their child-bearing years can also decrease their risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by adopting a well-balanced lifestyle. Dr. Lipscombe recommends that young women at risk of Type 2 diabetes make the following changes to prevent their potential diagnosis:

  • at least 150 minutes of regular exercise per week
  • maintain a healthy body-mass index of less than 25
  • follow a well-balanced diet

The most recent trends in diabetes rates reinforce the notion that this chronic disease can target women in every age group.  Dr. Lipscombe notes that young people can no longer assume that they are not vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes.

“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 healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 22, 2016

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  • Women's College Hospital