Non-Hispanic white kids are being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at higher rates than children of other ethnic and racial groups and at higher rates than in previous years, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Diabetes.
The rise is especially significant in 5 to 9-year-olds and was slightly higher for boys, the study found. The rate for kids under 4 did not change.
Researchers found that between 2002 and 2009 the rate of diagnosis jumped from 24.4 to 27.4 per 100,000 white youth. This represents about a 2.7 percent growth in newly diagnosed cases annually.
"Our findings indicate that the rates of Type 1 diabetes in youth are increasing," said Jean Lawrence, lead author and senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation. "These children will require specialized health care as they enter young adulthood."
The study didn’t say why white children are harder hit with Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, although other research has suggested some possible culprits, Lawrence said.
"There are genetic determinants and there may be some environmental triggers for autoimmune response that is leading to the development of Type 1 diabetes," she said.
When a child has Type 1 it means the body has lost the ability to produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone that converts sugar, starches and other foods into energy. Because their bodies do not produce insulin they must get insulin therapy, usually via a daily injection.
"The reason this is important is because Type 1 diabetes is a condition that requires a lot of management by children and their parents and it is associated over time with other complications resulting from developing Type 1 diabetes," Lawrence said.
Obesity has not been linked to Type 1, Lawrence said, adding that "the proportion of [children with] Type 1 that are overweight and obese mirror what we see in the general population of children in the United States. If you look at Type 2 they are much more overweight and obese."
With Type 2 the body becomes insulin resistant, which Lawrence said is related to being overweight.
Researchers are exploring genetics, environment and other factors in their quest to determine why non-Hispanic white children are more prone to developing Type 1 diabetes Lawrence said. Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in the non-white groups of children.
The study used data generated by a larger, multi-year study of about 3 million children called the SEARCH study. The newly-published research is based on SEARCH information on children and teens from five states – California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.