Both forms of diabetes on the rise in children

Both major forms of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2, have increased significantly in children and teenagers in recent years, a new study finds.

And while the increase in Type 2 diabetes may not be too surprising, given all the attention to the rise in childhood obesity, a similar increase in Type 1 — once known as juvenile diabetes — is a little more puzzling, especially among minority populations.

The two forms of diabetes are quite different. In Type 1, the pancreas is unable to produce insulin — a hormone needed to move glucose into cells so it can produce energy. In Type 2, the pancreas produces insulin but the body is resistant to it. Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, inactivity and a family history of the disease. The causes of Type 1 are less clear, but are thought to involve both family history and the body’s own immune system attacking healthy tissue.

The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study, which included more than 3 million children and adolescents ages 10 to 19 in seven states across the country, found that the prevalence of both forms of diabetes rose substantially between 2001 and 2009. The children in the study lived in California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington State, and on Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.

The study, published in the May 7 Journal of the American Medical Association, found the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes cases rose by more than 30 percent over the eight-year period. Increases were seen in both sexes, all age groups and among Caucasians, Hispanics and African-Americans.

Dr. Roberto Treviño, executive director of the Social & Health Research Center of San Antonio, which studies diabetes risk factors in children and operates prevention programs in schools, noted that while rates may have increased for all children, some are clearly at higher risk than others.

Treviño was part of the 2009 HEALTHY study that found the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in children 9 to 15 in San Antonio and other cities was double that of what the SEARCH study found — 0.94 cases per 1,000 children, compared to 0.46.

“Our study was purposely designed to include at least 70 percent of low-income and minority children” in the study population, said Treviño, whose center receives some funding from University Health System. “In the JAMA study, all children regardless of socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity were included.”

The SEARCH study also found prevalence of Type 1 diabetes grew by 21 percent, with the largest increases in those 15 to 19 years of age. Increases were seen in Caucasians, Hispanics, African-Americans and Pacific Islanders. The researchers said those findings came as a surprise.

“Historically, Type 1 diabetes has been considered a disease that affects primarily white youth,” they wrote. “However, our findings highlight the increasing burden of Type 1 diabetes experienced by youth of minority racial/ethnic groups as well.”