The Alarming Rise of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Teens


Having lived with type 1 diabetes since the age of four, I can say with certainty that, while it doesn’t stop me from living a full life, it gets in the way and adds stress and anxiety to what should be normal daily activities. A 20 minute walk can send my blood sugars plummeting on some occasions, while a 30 minute walk on another day might not impact my blood sugar levels at all. I have learned to fine tune and predict as much as possible, but diabetes is still a major obstacle that I have to contend with not only daily, but hourly, sometimes even many times an hour. If I had to calculate the time I spent managing diabetes each day, month or year, it wouldn’t be much less than the same as the amount of time I spend breathing. Diabetes is always on my mind and I’m constantly making decisions based on it, so to read the results of a 10 year study about increasing rates of diabetes in young people is a tough pill to swallow.

The study, recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that the annual rate of newly-diagnosed cases of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in young people increased considerably from 2002-2012.

Why is this happening?

In the case of  type 2 diabetes, weight is often a contributing factor. But there are  unknowns at play. And no one knows what causes type 1 diabetes, let alone why it’s increasing. What I do know is I wouldn’t wish this burden on anyone, even if it’s manageable, so I hope we figure out why rates of are increasing and put a stop to it.

Over the course of a decade the SEARCH study looked at 11,245 youths (0 to 19 years old) with type 1 diabetes and 2846 young people (10 to 19 years old) with type 2 diabetes from five study centers across the USA. According to Pharmabiz, “This study is the first ever to estimate trends in new diagnosed cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in youth (those under the age of 20), from the five major racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.: non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.”

Bioscience Technology reported that, “The cohort included youth from seven counties in Southern California, all of Colorado as well as selected American Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico, all of South Carolina, eight counties in Ohio, and five counties in Washington.”

According to the study results, “After adjustment for age, sex, and race or ethnic group, the relative annual increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes was 1.8% and that of type 2 diabetes was 4.8%.” The fastest rise was seen among racial/ethnic minority groups.


Key diabetes findings from the report

  • Across all racial/ethnic groups, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased more annually from 2003-2012 in males (2.2 percent) than in females (1.4 percent) ages 0-19.
  • Among youth ages 0-19, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased most sharply in Hispanic youth, a 4.2 percent annual increase. In non-Hispanic blacks, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased by 2.2 percent and in non-Hispanic whites by 1.2 percent per year.
  • Among youth ages 10-19, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes rose most sharply in Native Americans (8.9 percent), Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders (8.5 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (6.3 percent).  Note: The rates for Native Americans cannot be generalized to all Native American youth nationwide.
  • Among youth ages 10-19, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes increased 3.1 percent among Hispanics. The smallest increase was seen in whites (0.6 percent). The rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes rose much more sharply in females (6.2 percent) than in males (3.7 percent) ages 10-19.

The research was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was co-led by The University of North Carolina’s Department of Nutrition Chair Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, Ph.D.

Mayer-Davis told Bioscience Technology, “For both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the increase in the rate of new cases diagnosed was higher for youth of minority race or ethnicity, compared to white youth.”

“This was expected for type 2 diabetes. In fact, for type 2 diabetes, we saw increases for all racial and ethnic groups except among white youth. But while the overall incidence rate of type 1 diabetes remains highest among white youth, the fastest increase occurred for Hispanic youth, which is something we didn’t expect to see.” 

Barbara Linder, M.D., Ph.D., senior advisor for childhood diabetes research at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, said in a press release about the study, “These findings lead to many more questions.”

“The differences among racial and ethnic groups and between genders raise many questions. We need to understand why the increase in rates of diabetes development varies so greatly and is so concentrated in specific racial and ethnic groups.”

These significant increases in diagnoses of type 1 and type 2 diabetes confirm the growing burden of diabetes across the board. The researchers note that their data highlights the crucial need to find ways to address inequalities in access to the health care particularly related to race and ethnicity.

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2 years ago

Good article. But will researchers be permitted to evaluate some obvious potential causes? Or will traditional sacred cows be protected from honest evaluation? Judging from recent history, it appears the latter will prevail. Obvious potential causes cannot be discussed, much less funded. If we REALLY want to reduce the incidence of T1D, there should be NO sacred cows.

5 years ago

So if a Type 1 includes a genetic component, and more people with Type 1 are alive today to procreate as opposed to before the introduction of exogenous insulin in 1922 (?), then doesn’t it stand to reason that the genetic component is passed on to more descendants than prior to 1922? I mean really is it more complicated than this observation? If my grandmother was born a few years earlier, she wouldn’t have lived to procreate. My mother wouldn’t have existed. I wouldn’t have existed. Hence, no Type 1 for me or my grandmother’s other descendants. I realize heredity… Read more »

Rick Phillips
rick phillips
5 years ago

I honestly can think of many reasons. I wonder if the population surveyed was a major issue, the locations, perhaps it is the lack of a good baseline data. Of course, it might also be that diabetes is on a significant rise. More questions and answers here.

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