Childhood Diabetes On The Rise

By Amir Khan on June 11, 2012 4:11 PM EDT

Children
Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in children, according to new research presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting on Saturday (Photo: Flickr.com/epSos.de)

Diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in children, according to new research presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting on Saturday.  The rate of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children has jumped more than 20 percent since 2001, researchers said.

"Both types of diabetes are increasing," Dr. Dana Dabelea, study coauthor and associate dean for faculty affairs at the University of Colorado School of Public Health, told HealthDay. For type 2, we have some clues as to why it's increasing, but for type 1, we still need to better understand the triggers of this disease."

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Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly activates cells that produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 is not linked to lifestyle factors, such as obesity.

Type 2 diabetes results in high blood sugar levels since the body cannot produce enough insulin. Doctors typically prescribe metformin, a medication used to lower blood sugar, to Type 2 diabetes patients. If the pill fails, doctors will try other drugs or insulin injections to regulate the levels.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to blindness, nerve damage, kidney failure, limb amputation and even heart attacks or stroke, according to the American Diabetes Association. One in five of the teens with diabetes suffer serious complications from the disease, such as high blood sugar, requiring hospitalization.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of children with type 1 and type 2 diabetes increased 23 and 21 percent respectively. In addition, researchers found that many children with type 2 diabetes had protein in their urine, which indicates that they may be at risk for kidney failure.

"This is of grave concern, because these youth will live with diabetes most of their lives and may develop diabetes-related complications," Guiseppina Imperatore, a medical epidemiologist at CDC, said, according to Fox News. "Preliminary data suggest that complications may already be developing in this generation."

Between 1980 and 2010, the prevalence of diabetes increased 176 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 12 Americans, 25 million in total, has diabetes, according to the CDC. The disease was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and medical costs, disability and loss of work totaled $174 billion in 2007, the last year with available data.

"We are definitely seeing [diabetes] more in children," Georgeanna Klingensmith, head of pediatrics at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, told Fox News. "The day cares and school systems need to be prepared to deal with that."

Obesity is a major factor for diabetes, and as the obesity rate has increased, so has the diabetes rate. Over 35 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 20 are obese, and since 1985, the percentage of obese people has increased steadily. In 1985, no state had an obesity rate above 14 percent whereas by 2010, no state had an obesity rate under 20 percent, according to CDC data.

Four of the top five most obese states also have the highest rate of diabetes, according to a 2009 Gallup poll.

"The relationship between obesity and diabetes-related health outcomes is widely understood," according to the Gallup poll. "If the 10 most obese states had the same obesity rate as the 10 least obese, approximately 4.6 million fewer people would be obese and an estimated 1.8 million fewer would be diagnosed with diabetes in those 10 states alone. Underscoring the point, if all 50 states had the same average diabetes rate as the 10 least obese states, approximately 5 million fewer Americans would be diabetics."

Healthy eating is one of the most effective way to  reduce the  risk for type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. The organization recommends eating lean meats such as turkey or chicken and eating more whole grains.

Type 1 diabetes, however, is much more difficult to prevent. Some research suggests that a viral illness can activate the disease, but results are not conclusive. Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay he was surprised that the disease is increasing.

"I don't know what would cause more autoimmune disease in type 1," he said. 

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