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The Rise in Childhood Diabetes

Two children drinking milk

Diabetes is no longer just a problem for adults. In fact, the disease is being diagnosed in children with even greater frequency today than ever before, and is now considered to be one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents. So how did this happen, and why? The answer is more complicated than people may expect.

Nationally, about one out of every five kids is considered overweight or obese, while nearly one in three Michigan children face the same dilemma. Childhood obesity increases the risk of having chronic health conditions, like type 2 diabetes – once called adult-onset diabetes. This was rarely seen in children before 1990, and since then, the number of children diagnosed each year has increased at a rapid rate, a trend doctors believe to be the result of the high prevalence of obesity in youth. For type 2 diabetes, the increase makes sense: as more children become obese, the number of children diagnosed with this disease increases at a similar rate.

Type 1 diabetes is not as simple and the recent increase in diagnosis has researchers stumped. In a longitudinal study from 2002 to 2012, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the rate of newly diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes in children aged 0 to 19 increased by nearly 2 percent each year. Untreated Type 1 diabetes can be extremely dangerous and even fatal, so it is important for parents to be aware of some of the warning signs associated with this disease. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International lists the following as Type 1 diabetes warning signs:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Sudden vision change
  • Sugar in urine
  • Fruity, sweet, or wine-like odor on breath
  • Increased appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Drowsiness, lethargy
  • Heavy, labored breathing
  • Stupor, unconsciousness

Additionally, families can help avoid childhood obesity, which is known to lead to type 2 diabetes in kids, by encouraging everyone to incorporate more fruits, vegetables and lean meats into their diet, as well as increased exercise.