In just eight years, diabetes in US children has skyrocketed, with a 21% increase in Type 1 diabetes (between 2001 and 2009), while Type 2 diabetes increased by 30.5%, according to a new study that will appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The participants in the study
More than 3 million children and adolescents’ data was collected from five centres in California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington State and American Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. For Type 1 diabetes, the age range included children and adolescents 19 years old and younger. For Type 2 diabetes, only children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 were used.
What is Type 1 diabetes?
With Type 1 diabetes your body stops producing insulin, which is why insulin has to be sourced externally. Insulin converts sugar and starches, amongst others, into energy.
What is Type 2 diabetes?
With Type 2 diabetes your body still produces insulin, but its usage of the insulin is not that effective – causing insulin resistance. In the beginning the pancreas goes into overdrive to make more insulin to make up for the ineffective processing of the insulin. But eventually the pancreas cannot take the extra work of making additional insulin, so blood sugar levels become unstable.
Type 1 diabetes spikes
Starting in 2001, almost 5 000 of 3 million children were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. But in the eight years that followed, almost 6 700 children were diagnosed (21%), the research concluded. It seems that children from zero to four years old were spared, as well as American Indian children, where there was no increase.
According to lead researcher and associate dean for the faculty at the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora, Dana Dabelea, there is no clear indication of what caused the increases in Type 1 diabetes, “… since the causes of Type 1 diabetes are still unclear, it is likely that something has changed in our environment, both in the US and elsewhere in the world, causing more youth to develop the disease, maybe at increasingly younger ages.”
Type 2 diabetes increases
From a group of 2 million children, 588 were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2001, but in 2009 that number jumped to 819. This might not seem significant, but when seen as a percentage, an increase of 30.5% should be taken seriously. Again American Indian children were not affected by the increase, and this time also Asian Pacific Islanders.
Type 2 diabetes could possibly be attributed to the high obesity epidemic in the US, as well as the increasing long-term effects of diabetes and obesity during pregnancy, according to Dana Dabelea.
Racial differences in diabetes diagnosis
According to the study, “Historically, Type 1 diabetes has been considered a disease that affects primarily white youth; however, our findings highlight the increasing burden of type 1 diabetes experienced by youth of minority racial/ethnic groups as well.”
For both types, whites, blacks and Hispanics were among the diagnosed children.
Gender and age differences in diabetes diagnosis
The increase was seen among both boys and girls. However, age seemed to have an impact, as the major increases were evident at ages 15 to 19 for both types of diabetes.
Continued growing numbers
According to Dr Robert Ratner, who is the chief medical and scientific officer for the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are expected to live longer, and as such it would become a major healthcare issue in the next 20 years: “There is a need to pay more attention to the prevention of diabetes, because we are not going to be able to care for all [diabetic patients].”
Concern over increased Type 1 diabetes diagnosis
On the topic of the increased diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes in children, Dr Ratner posed the question of whether the interaction between genetics and the environment could be increasing autoimmunity, but admitted that there is no proven cause. “It’s a major question that needs to be answered.”
According to the director of paediatric endocrinology at Miami Children’s Hospital, Dr Luis Gonzalez-Mendoza, the increased Type 1 diabetes diagnosis among children is of great concern. He says, “Type 1 diabetes seems to be on the rise among teens, almost double what it used to be… There is something that is acting as a trigger for the immune system to go crazy, because Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder.”
Source: Steven Reinberg, Healthday: News for Healthier Living, 3 May 2014.