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Type 1 Diabetes May Double in Young Kids

Researchers Say Rate of Type 1 Diabetes in Children Growing Faster Than Earlier Predictions
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 27, 2009 -- The incidence of type 1 diabetes among very young children will double from 2005 levels in a little over a decade if present trends continue, a new study shows.

The prediction is based on type 1 diabetes trends in Europe, but experts say there is every reason to believe that the U.S. will see a similar dramatic increase in the disease.

They are also convinced that environmental exposures are driving the increase, but it is far from clear what those exposures are.

Once known as juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is much less common than type 2 diabetes, except among children and adolescents.

The most common age of diagnosis has been the early teen years, but epidemiologist Christopher C. Patterson, PhD, of Ireland's Queen's University, tells WebMD that the burden may be shifting toward younger children.

"We are likely to see more children with severe diabetes complications presenting at earlier ages if we fail to recognize and adequately treat disease in very young patients," he says.

In the latest issue of TheLancet, Patterson and colleagues concluded that rates of type 1 diabetes among children and young teens are increasing faster than previous predictions suggested.

Patterson and colleagues analyzed data from European registries, which included information on more than 29,000 children with type 1 diabetes, enrolled between 1989 and 2003.

They found that:

  • The overall increase in incidence of type 1 diabetes was 3.9% per year.
  • The increase was greatest among children under 5, who saw increases of 5.4% per year compared to an annual increase of 4.3% among children between the ages of 5 and 9 and 2.9% among children between the ages of 10 and 14.
  • If present trends continue, total cases of disease are projected to rise by 70% by 2020 and rates among children under 5 will double.

Reasons for Increase in Type 1 Diabetes

Since the increases are occurring so quickly, it is likely that environmental influences are driving the trend, Patterson says.

Researchers are examining a wide range of possible environmental triggers, including early-life diet, viral infection, and even C-section delivery. But they still have more questions than answers.

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