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Diabetes rates in children are shocking: Know the warning signs

children getting diabetes

The number of children who are developing type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes has risen significantly over the past eight years, according to a new study published in JAMA. If you are a parent, this information is of great importance to you and your child’s future.

The figures are alarming: between 2001 and 2009, the prevalence of type 1 diabetes among youth ages 0 through 19 years increased by 21 percent. For type 2 diabetes, the number is especially worrisome; among young people ages 10 to 19 years, prevalence rose 30.5 percent.

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This was not a small study. In fact, data from more than 3 million children and adolescents were evaluated. Here are some of the specific findings:

  • Although type 1 diabetes used to affect mostly white youth, there is an increase in the number of children of color affected
  • For type 2 diabetes, increases were noted in white, black, and Hispanic young people but no changes were seen in American Indian and Asian Pacific Islander youth
  • Increases in the prevalence of diabetes was seen in both sexes

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Why this information is important
Parents should be aware of the risk factors and signs and symptoms of diabetes so they can take the necessary steps to protect their child’s health. As the authors of the study pointed out, “such youth with diabetes will enter adulthood with several years of disease duration, difficulty in treatment, an increased risk of early complications, and increased frequency of diabetes during reproductive years, which may further increase diabetes in the next generation.”

When children develop diabetes, they face the very real possibility of experiencing problems with vision, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), amputation, kidney failure, dental problems, and other complications at a much earlier age. Since type 2 diabetes is preventable, taking preventive measures early can stop the disease as well as the complications.

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Read about the extra health risks for kids with type 2 diabetes

Among young people, being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Lack of physical exercise as well as a family history of the disease also are important.

Parents need to be mindful of their children’s eating habits and address weight issues with a healthcare provider and nutritionist if necessary. Especially with young children, an improvement in eating habits adopted by the entire family can be most effective in helping kids make healthful choices.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes in children can include the following:

  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Areas of darkened skin under the arms or on the neck
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts or sores that are slow to heal
  • Increase in the number of infections (e.g., colds, flu)

Note: Symptoms of type 1 diabetes are similar, yet they typically develop quickly (over a period of a few weeks). Hunger tends to be extreme, and kids often also experience weight loss and a sudden change in behavior and mood. Females may experience yeast infections.

Read about the management guideline for type 2 diabetes in kids

Parents should ask their pediatrician about type 2 diabetes screening for their children, especially if a child has any risk factors or symptoms. Early diagnosis can help with better management of type 1 diabetes and institution of healthful lifestyle changes may help prevent development of type 2 diabetes in children.

Dabelea D et al. Prevalence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes among children and adolescents from 2001 to 2009. JAMA 2014; 311(17): 1778-86

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