Report: Rate of Diabetes Skyrocketing in Children

The New York Times is reporting that the incidence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically among children and adolescents.

Data from more than three million children under the age of 20 in five states — California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington, as well as select Native American reservations — was analyzed for this study, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found a 21 percent increase in Type 1 diabetes among kids up to age 19, and a 30 percent increase in Type 2 diabetes among youth ages 10-19.

Those are “big numbers,” said Dr. Robin S. Goland, a co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who has been in practice for about 25 years. “In my career, Type 1 diabetes was a rare disease in children, and Type 2 disease didn’t exist. And I’m not that old.”

Type 1 diabetes causes the immune system to attack insulin-making cells in the pancreas, and has increased among black and Hispanic children; previously the disease has mostly effected Caucasians. Dr. Goland says he doesn't understand why this increase has occurred, and added that researchers need to do more work to determine whether environmental or genetic factors are to blame.

Type 2 diabetes is thought to be brought on by a genetic predisposition to poor insulin action and secretion, often made worse by obesity and inactivity. The new research data showed increases among black, white, and Hispanic children, but not among Asian-Pacific Islanders or Native American children.

Lead study author Dr. Dana Dabelea, a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the Colorado School of Public Health, told the New York Times that gestational diabetes is a risk factor for diabetes in the next generation. And researchers note that these increases will affect public health in the long term, as these children enter adulthood with an increased risk for a variety of health complications.

Diabetes is more difficult to treat in children than it is in adults. The disease progresses faster in kids, and they're more likely than adults to have trouble sticking to diets that will help control their blood sugar. Additionally, growth spurts make the appropriate dosage of insulin (when required) difficult to determine.