Liu Jing (pseudonym) stared at an exquisite tiramisu in a bakery for a long time before making up her mind to buy one.
But the 18-year-old girl had to pay the price for savoring this sweet and high-calorie dessert -- jog half an hour.
Two years ago, Liu was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Even a piece of cake has become an extravagance for her, as she has to regulate her sugar intake to lower the risk of diabetes complications in the long run.
China has the largest number of diabetics worldwide, with more than 116 million people aged 20 to 79 years suffering from the disease, said Tong Xiaolin, an endocrinologist with Guang'anmen Hospital under China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, citing statistics of the International Diabetes Federation.
Doctors say more young people like Liu are being diagnosed with diabetes than ever before due to reasons such as unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.
When Liu was a senior high school student, she stood 165 cm tall and weighed 83 kg. The obese girl always felt thirsty, and was diagnosed with diabetes.
Liu has to wear an insulin pump on her waist to better control blood sugar level. No place to conceal her device, she rarely fancies putting on dress outfits. "I do not want others to know my disease," she said.
Yang Jie (pseudonym), a 22-year-old diabetic, understands Liu's frustration. "I just graduated from university. I thought I was very young and never expected that I would have diabetes," said Yang, who works in an internet company in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Zhang Qiumei, a Tianjin-based endocrinologist, recalled that most outpatients were over 50 years old in the 1990s, but now more and more young people are seen.
Zhang's concern was echoed by Weng Jianping, vice president of the First Affiliated Hospital under the University of Science and Technology of China. "The number of diabetes patients aged below 40 is surging rapidly, with the prevalence rate as high as 5.9 percent," Weng said. "What's more worrisome is that we have a large prediabetic population."
Diabetes can lead to serious health complications, such as cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and stroke. "Clinically, with the rising prevalence of diabetes, the peak of complications looms large," Tong warned.
Zhang emphasized that the major challenge facing diabetics is the lifelong control of sugar intake. She recalled a heartbreaking story of a 15-year-old boy with type 2 diabetes who finally lost his eyesight due to poor blood sugar control.
Compared with type 1 diabetes, which is primarily genetic in origin, type 2 diabetes is generally considered a lifestyle disease.
Rapid social and economic development in the past decades has led to a change in lifestyle among the Chinese, with more sedentary behavior and consumption of high energy and fat diet.
Doctors noted that obesity, unhealthy diet, excessive stress and chronic anxiety are among several risk factors causing diabetes and warned of increasing young diabetics in the country.
"People of different ages, educational backgrounds and occupations have different understandings of type 2 diabetes. It needs concerted efforts from all sides, including social organizations, media and doctors, to raise public awareness on the disease," Weng said.
Experts called on people at risk of diabetes to undergo early screening at hospitals and the diabetics to master more self-management skills and follow a healthy lifestyle.
"Early detection and treatment are key to controlling blood glucose and preventing complications," said Luo Yingying, a doctor with Peking University People's Hospital.
Liu Jing has gradually learned to accept her disease. "Every coin has two sides. A healthy lifestyle is my road map for managing diabetes. In a sense, it's not that bad."