Are More Children Developing Diabetes?

Are More Children Developing Diabetes?

As many are aware, more people than ever before are being diagnosed with diabetes. However, many fail to realize that more children are at risk of developing the condition. According to the National Diabetes Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29.1 million American children and adults have some form of diabetes.

Diabetes is a potentially deadly condition, and associated costs have been known to go as high as $245 billion. While only five percent of the population has type 1 diabetes, and there is no known way to avoid the condition, the same cannot be said of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for many of the cases seen, and it is possible to prevent and manage the condition.

New cases and a recent study show an increase of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children, some as young as three. Learn more about type 1 and type 2 diabetes and the surprising trend.

Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus is considered to be a metabolic disorder wherein the body is unable to store and use glucose as fuel. Glucose is needed to fuel many cellular processes.

Type 1 diabetes can often begin in childhood. It is an autoimmune condition in which pancreatic cells are attacked by the immune system. This condition makes it difficult for the pancreatic cells to produce enough or any insulin.

Type 2 diabetes was known as adult onset diabetes. More children are developing the condition, and there appears to be a link to obesity in children. The pancreatic cells cannot produce enough insulin, although more than in Type 1. In addition, the other cells of the body do not properly respond to the available insulin. Insulin resistance develops, cells are overexposed to insulin, and elevated blood glucose levels are present.

Type 2 Diabetes at Three Years-of-Age

It is shocking to find children at ever younger ages developing Type 2 diabetes. A Hispanic toddler evaluated for obesity with a weight of 77 pounds, compared to the average of 35 pounds for a child of that age, is now a documented case of “one of the youngest people” to develop type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Michael Yafi of the University of Texas Health Science at Houston said:

“The incidence of [type 2 diabetes] has increased dramatically worldwide in children due to the epidemic of child obesity. Clinicians should be aware of the possibility of type 2 diabetes even in very young obese children, although of course type 1 diabetes can also occur in obese children and is in fact much more common in young children than type 2 diabetes.”

The good thing about the condition is that it is possible to reverse the conditions. Yafi continued by adding:

“Reversal of type 2 diabetes in children is possible by early screening of obese children, early diagnosis, appropriate therapy and lifestyle modification.”

More Children Developing Both

It appears that along with the issue of obesity, children are now at higher risk of developing both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. This surprising discovery was revealed in a recent study done on American children. However, the trend can also be seen in other countries and cases presented during meetings of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm.

The trend that troubles many researchers, pediatricians and healthcare professionals is that over the period from 2002 to 2012, rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have increased. The most notable rises have happened in ethnic and racial minorities. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the author of the study focused on diabetes in children said:

“The increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes is likely related primarily to the increases in overweight and obesity in youth, although this is not the only reason.”

Different factors may complicate the issue. Mayer-Davis stated:

“The specific genes and environmental/behavioral factors that cause type 2 diabetes are different than those that cause type 1 diabetes.”

She and her colleagues found:

  • Incidences of type 1 diabetes increased at a rate of 1.8 percent annually;
  • The rate of type 1 diabetes in Hispanic children was at 4.2 percent per year, while the rate was considerably less among white children, at only 1.2 percent;
  • Type 2 diabetes appeared to be increasing faster than type 1, although fewer children have type 2;
  • An increase of 4.8 percent a year in the rate of type 2 diabetes from 2002-2012;
  • The increase of type 2 diabetes among black children was at 6.3 percent, 8.5 percent among Asian/Pacific Islanders; and nearly 9 percent among Native Americans.

Children can easily grow into adults with diabetes. The condition places them at risk of other health conditions including:

  • Poor blood sugar control;
  • Early kidney damage;
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels; and
  • High blood pressure.

Efforts at the school district levels may help to address the growing concern. More physical activity and access to healthy food options may be one way to prevent diabetes and obesity in children in communities across America. Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley of New York City said:

“We’re going to have to try to engineer physical activities back into our daily lives…get PE more back into schools. Second, we’re going to have to increase access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and reduce the availability and promotion of the calorie-dense snack foods that make it so easy for us to consume too many calories.”

Healthcare professionals, behavioral analysts, educators, nutritionists and community members can benefit from exploring resources available to prevent and address the growing trend of childhood-onset diabetes. New research and assistance with making healthier food choices may help slow the rise in new cases and improve our approach in working with families with young children at risk of developing diabetes or childhood obesity.


Lisa DiFalco is a leading writer for wellness and education. She has helped manage cases directly at halfway houses before extensive careers in education and wellness. She is passionate about vital issues and supports community improvement efforts.

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