Thousands of Children Diagnosed With Adult-Onset Diabetes Annually
New estimates from the CDC show that about 3,700 Americans under the age of 20 receive a diagnosis annually of what used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes. The number is relatively small, which technically makes it a rare disease among children, but scientists are more concerned about the larger implications of this growing “trend”.
“In a little more than 10 years, the numbers went from nothing to something,” said Larry Deeb, a pediatric endocrinologist and past president of the medicine and science division of the American Diabetes Association. “And that’s something to worry about.”
Diabetes can cause a number of health problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, limb amputations and blindness. It costs the U.S. health-care system $174 billion a year, according to the National Institutes of Health.
These are all frightening statistics for an older population, but it’s even more worrisome among younger people suffering from diabetes. Among the chief concerns: does a child getting a diabetes diagnosis in their teens put them at risk of heart attacks in their 20s? Will they need kidney dialysis in their 30s?
More than 25 million Americans have diabetes – of which, more than 90 percent have type 2, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. An additional 79 million have a condition called pre-diabetes, in which blood sugar levels are high but not as high as in diabetes.
A national study of 2,000 eighth-grade students from communities at high risk for diabetes found that more than half of the children were overweight or obese. While only 1 percent had diabetes, almost a third of them had pre-diabetes, according to Lori Laffel, chief of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Section of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and a principal investigator on the study.
The numbers have progressed to the point where pediatricians, at least, have begun to look for it. When at-risk children are caught early enough, it is possible to delay, or even stop, the onset of type 2 diabetes through lifestyle changes.
Children who have dark, velvety rash around their necks, a family history of diabetes, and who weigh above the 85th percentile for age and sex should be screened with blood and urine tests for diabetes, doctors recommend.