A study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows an alarming increase in the rate of diabetes among those under twenty years of age: Type 1 Diabetes has increased by 21 percent, and Type 2 diabetes has increased by 30 percent. The study tracked data reported by medical professionals between 2001 and 2009 from 3 million children in 5 states.
The new study found a particularly big increase in Type 1 diabetes among black and hispanic youths. In Type 1 diabetes, a patient’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin, a hormone required to control blood sugar levels. Historically, children affected by diabetes were most often white.
Dr. Dana Dabelea, the lead author of the study and a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the Colorado School of Public Health, called the increase in Type 1 diabetes among youth “particularly worrisome.” Statistically, some black and hispanic children have historically been less likely to control their high blood sugar, and were more likely to suffer complications of diabetes, like eye disease, kidney disease, heart disease and limb amputations. If that trend continues, it will be overwhelming for the public health system.
Type 2 diabetes is thought to occur when there is a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance, usually made worse by obesity and inactivity. Until the mid-90’s, Type 2 diabetes was very unusual to see in children, and was even called “adult-onset” diabetes. But during the last half of that decade, diabetes rates among youth started to inch up to what are now historically high levels and what some may classify as epidemic levels. The study’s authors believe that the uptick may be the result of “minority population growth, obesity, exposure to diabetes in utero and perhaps endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”
Unfortunately, this increase among youth will have vast public health consequences. As the children become young adults, they will suffer the complications and side effects of living a decade or more with diabetes. Additionally, their children, having been exposed to the disease in utero, will also be at risk for diabetes.
The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health and is part of a continuing study, Search for Diabetes in Youth, examining the condition among children.