Growing number of American teens developing diabetes

Meagan Clark Contributor
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Nearly a quarter of American teenagers have Type 2 diabetes or are close to developing it, compared to less than 10 percent of teens a decade ago, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Before the 1990s, Type 2 diabetes was so rare in children, the term did not exist. It was instead called adult-onset diabetes.

The study analyzes data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the CDC. The study surveyed 3,383 participants over the past decade, and the latest data is from 2007-2008.

To add to the growing problem, researchers have found evidence that the disease advances at a faster pace in children than adults, according to a study published last April in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Lori Laffel of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, who was not involved with the NHNES, told the NY Times the study is “the best sampling of [American] youth to inform us about cardiovascular risk factors.” She also cautioned that because the figure of one in four teens is high, more research needs to be done to support these findings.

The study is based on single samples of blood glucose levels from teens ages 12-19, who were asked to fast for at least 8 hours before the test. The levels would be higher for a teen that did not fast and for teens going through puberty, which increases insulin resistance and blood glucose concentrations.

The NHNES also found that rates of obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in teens have not changed much in recent years. According to the NY Times, experts and doctors say the differing trends may be explained if many teens who were overweight or sedentary as children are only now developing Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

The survey is conducted every two years and showed the rate of diabetes and prediabetes in teens increased from 9 percent in 1999-2000 to 15 percent in 2001-2, fell to 13 percent in 2003-4, rose to 16 percent in 2005-6 and shot up to 23 percent in 2007-8.

The survey also found 16 percent of American teens are overweight, another 18 percent are obese, and about 60 percent have a normal weight. Sixty percent of the obese, 50 percent of the overweight, and 37 percent of those with a normal weight were found to be at risk for heart disease, indicated by such factors as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

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Meagan Clark