The numbers of new cases of diabetes rose 74% between 1997 and 2003, reveals research published ahead of print in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The findings suggest that rates of diabetes are increasing at a faster rate in the UK than they are in North America, where prevalence of the disease is one of the highest in the world.
The figures are based on new and existing cases of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among the UK general population, details of which were entered into the Health Improvement Network database between 1996 and 2005. This database currently contains almost 5 million medical records, supplied by over 300 general practices.
Over the decade, the details of 49,999 people who already had diabetes, and those of more than 42, 642, who were newly diagnosed with the disease, were added. All the data refer to patients between the ages of 10 and 79 years..
Of those newly diagnosed, just over 1,250 had type 1 (insulin dependent and inherited) disease, and more than 41,000 had type 2 (non-insulin dependent and acquired) disease.
The overall prevalence of diabetes increased from 2.8% of the population in 1996 to 4.3% in 2005. This equates to an annual rise of just under 5% and a 54% increase over the decade.
The prevalence of the disease was 29% higher among men than among women.
While the numbers of new cases of Type 1 diabetes remained fairly constant over the decade, the numbers of new cases of Type 2 diabetes did not. These shot up from 2.60 to 4.31 cases per 1000 patient years, equivalent to an increase of 69% over the decade.
The rise in obesity has had a significant role. In 1996 38% of people newly diagnosed with Type 2 disease were overweight and 46% were obese; in 2005, the corresponding proportions were 32% and 56%, respectively.
Not only have the numbers of new cases of diabetes been steadily rising, but they have been rising much more rapidly in recent years, increasing by 74% between 1997 and 2003 alone. "Our results suggest that, although the incidence of diabetes remains lower in the UK than in the USA or Canada, it appears to be increasing at a faster pace," the authors warn.