August 19, 2022


Health for a better future

‘Concerning’ number of young people are living with diabetes

In this April 18, 2017, file photo, a woman with type 2 diabetes prepares to inject herself with insulin at her home in Las Vegas.

In this April 18, 2017, file photo, a woman with type 2 diabetes prepares to inject herself with insulin at her home in Las Vegas.


Diabetes diagnoses are soaring among young people in the U.S., a new study says.

The number of people under 20 years old living with type 1 diabetes — the most common type of diabetes in younger Americans — increased by 45% from 2001 to 2017, while the number of those living with type 2 diabetes grew by 95% in the same time.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why diabetes diagnoses are seeing what experts call “concerning increases,” but researchers speculate rising rates of childhood obesity, exposure to obesity and diabetes in utero, and increased diabetes screenings may play a role.

Estimates show 34.2 million Americans have diabetes, or just over 1 in 10 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, funded by the CDC, was published Tuesday in the journal JAMA. It included data on about 3.5 million people younger than 20.

“Increases in diabetes are always troubling — especially in youth. Rising rates of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, which is preventable, has the potential to create a cascade of poor health outcomes,” Dr. Giuseppina Imperatore, chief of the surveillance, epidemiology, economics and statistics branch in CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, said in a statement.

“Compared to people who develop diabetes in adulthood, youth are more likely to develop diabetes complications at an earlier age and are at higher risk of premature death,” Imperatore added.

Type 1 diabetes

Large jumps in the number of young people living with type 1 diabetes were seen among 5- to 19-year-olds , the study found. Increases were prevalent in both males and females and for each racial and ethnic group.

This kind of diabetes comes about when someone’s body mistakenly attacks itself, blocking the production of insulin — a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in blood.

About 5-10% of Americans have type 1 diabetes; it’s more common in young white people than non-white people.

People who have type 1 diabetes are usually diagnosed as children, teens or young adults and have to take insulin every day to survive.

Type 2 diabetes

Teens between 10 and 19 years old saw the largest increases in type 2 diabetes diagnoses across both sexes and each racial and ethnic group, though those who are Black or Hispanic saw the biggest jumps.

Young people who are Black or American Indian were the most likely to be living with type 2 diabetes overall.

Type 2 diabetes manifests over many years and occurs when someone’s body doesn’t use insulin as it should and fails to regulate blood sugar levels.

It’s common for people with type 2 diabetes to not notice any symptoms, so experts suggest regular blood tests for those at risk.

About 90-95% of Americans have this kind of diabetes; it can be prevented or delayed with the help of a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, exercise and weight management.

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Katie Camero is a McClatchy National Real-Time Science reporter. She’s an alumna of Boston University and has reported for the Wall Street Journal, Science, and The Boston Globe.