• American researchers found a significant increase in youth-onset type 2 diabetes after studying hospital data from 2018 to 2021.
  • New cases of type 2 diabetes increased by 77.2% compared to the previous two years (2018-2019).
  • While the study used U.S. hospital data, the incidence of youth-onset type 2 diabetes is rising worldwide.

A new multicentre report of 24 U.S. diabetes centres has identified a 4-5% yearly increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses in American children.

The scientists behind the study believe the rise in youth-onset type 2 diabetes cases, which increased by 77.2% when compared to the mean average of 2019 and 2018, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Megan M Kelsey of the Children’s Hospital Colorado and co-author of the study said: “It used to be rare to hear about a child with type 2 diabetes, but its prevalence in adolescents has almost doubled in the past 20 years.

“Type 2 diabetes is associated with rapidly progressive disease and early onset of complications and, unfortunately, was on the rise even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As part of the study, the researchers analysed the records of over 3,000 children newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Compared to the pre-pandemic years, when the average number of new cases was 825, in the first year of the pandemic, the number of diagnoses rose to 1,463.

Previous UK-based research has already identified a link between COVID-19 infection and diabetes. However, this latest study suggests other factors might be responsible for the increased incidence of type 2 diabetes, including environmental changes and stressors during the pandemic.

The researchers believe the pandemic-associated rise of youth-onset type 2 diabetes might be down to increased weight gain and BMI in children as they could not attend school due to restrictions.

By not attending school, there was an increase in sedentary behaviour and more time spent using screens due to lessons being delivered virtually. There were changes in eating habits, with greater consumption of ‘shelf-stable’ foods, often ultra-processed and calorie-dense. Finally, there was also a lack of physical education, alongside the cancellation of organised sports and other activities.

The researchers suggest that other factors responsible for the pandemic-related increase in youth-onset type 2 diabetes could be due to psychosocial stress. With environmental stressors already associated with youth-onset type 2 diabetes, the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for a significant mental health crisis in young people, offering another explanation for the rise in diagnoses.

“In the spring of 2020 we were inundated with new youth-onset type 2 diabetes cases,” Dr. Kelsey continued. “We were used to seeing 50-60 new cases per year and that increased to more than 100 new cases in a year. Colleagues at other institutions were seeing the same thing, so we gathered a team of researchers to evaluate the frequency and severity of new cases during the first year of the pandemic compared to the mean of the prior two years.

“It was challenging because there is not a funded national registry for youth-onset type 2 diabetes, so this work was done with an enormous and voluntary effort of investigators across the country who are dedicated to treating diabetes in youth.”

This study was originally published in The Journal of Paediatrics.

Get our free newsletters

Stay up to date with the latest news, research and breakthroughs.

You May Also Like

9 ways to stay motivated when working from home

Whether you are self-isolating, working from home, or both, staying stuck in…

Top diabetes professor drafts risk assessment document for frontline COVID-19 staff

The health and wellbeing of frontline NHS staff has been prioritised among…

Sarah Creswell: type 1 diabetes during COVID-19

We caught up with Sarah, a student nurse with type 1 diabetes,…