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Is type 2 diabetes in children becoming more common?

 
13/01/2016 | By Freedom Health Insurance
You may have seen the story in the news about the three-year-old girl in America who developed type 2 diabetes (1). One of the doctors involved tentatively suggests that this may be the youngest case of type 2 diabetes in the world, but it is difficult to know for certain as not all cases of diabetes are recorded.
 
In the UK, we have never had a case of a child this young being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. However, in 2012 a report found that of the 23,000 people under the age of 17 who had been diagnosed with diabetes, 1.8% of them were aged between five and nine and had type 2 diabetes (2).
 
The first diagnoses of children with type 2 diabetes in the UK were in 2000. In May 2015, statistics from Diabetes UK estimated that there are around 42,000 young people under the age of 19 who have diabetes and that around 1.9% of these people have type 2 diabetes (3).
 
Though the disease is still much more prevalent in middle aged adults than in children (3), the frequency of type 2 diabetes in children in the UK appears to be increasing (3a).
 
What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes that people usually talk about in reference to the condition which affects the body’s ability to make or respond properly to insulin (3). Type 1 diabetes is usually passed down through family genes and is not generally influenced by lifestyle (3). The causes for type 2 diabetes seem to be more complex, but lifestyle can be an influencing factor (3).  
 
Alongside these two main types of diabetes, there are other types which are less common, including Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY) (4), Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood (LADA) (5), and Diabetes Insipidus (DI)(6).
 
What could cause type 2 diabetes in children?

There are a number of factors which are thought to play a part in the development of type 2 diabetes in adults and children. However, the way in which these factors relate to one another, and how much influence each factor can exert, isn’t yet fully understood (7).
 
Weight

According to Diabetes UK, obesity is “the most potent risk factor for type 2 diabetes” (2). A study that investigated type 2 diabetes in children in the UK in 2007 found that 95% of those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were classed as overweight and 83% were classed as obese (3a).
 
Ethnicity

The National Paediatric Diabetes Audit found in 2012 that children of Asian origin were almost nine times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than white children; and children of black origin were almost six times more likely to develop the disease than white children (3).
 
This largely ties in with the statistics on adults who have type 2 diabetes. The disease is six times more common amongst people who are of South Asian origin in general; and around three times more common amongst people who are of African or Afro-Caribbean origin (3).
 
Genes

Like type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes may also be influenced by genes. Diabetes UK states that people are more at risk of type 2 diabetes if they have a parent or sibling who also has the disease (8). Also, the 2007 study on UK children found that 84% of the children with type 2 diabetes who took part had a family history of the disease (3a).
 
Conclusion

According to the studies and statistics referenced above, it would appear that type 2 diabetes amongst children has increased in frequency since the first child was diagnosed in the UK in 2000.
 
However, the number of children who are affected by the disease is still small, especially when compared to the number of middle-aged adults who have the disease – this is still the main group that is affected by type 2 diabetes (3).

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References:
1. BBC NEWS. 'Youngest' toddler with type 2 diabetes raises concern [Online] Available here.
2. DIABETES UK. DIABETES IN THE UK 2012 Key statistics on diabetes [Online] Available here
3. DIABETES UK. DIABETES: FACTS AND STATS [Online] Available here
3a. DIABETES CARE. Rising incidence of type 2 diabetes in children in the U.K. [Online] Available here.
4. DIABETES.CO.UK. Diabetes MODY [Online] Available here.  
5. DIABETES.CO.UK. Diabetes LADA [Online] Available here.
6. DIABETES.CO.UK. Diabetes Insipidus [Online] Available here.
7. DIABETES.CO.UK. Causes of Type 2 Diabetes [Online] Available here.
8. DIABETES UK. DIABETES RISK FACTORS [Online] Available here.