The number of American children living with type 1 diabetes is rising, a new study has found. According to Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research & Evaluation, between 2002 and 2009 the number of children with the disease rose from 24 per 100,000 to 27 per 100,000.
The study, which was led by Kaiser Permanente research scientist Jean Lawrence, focused on children aged 5 to 9. It did not attempt to learn more about what might be causing the spike, but other, similar studies have examined that issue.
“Like most other diseases, it’s a combination of genes and our environment,” notes Dr. Jessica Dunne, director and program lead for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Prevention Program.
Lawrence agrees. She says genes can play an important role in the development of type 1 diabetes but insists this isn’t the only factor worth considering. Sadly, we still don’t know how to identify those other triggers. “If we could … that would be a key target for prevention,” Lawrence says.
Unlike type 2 diabetes, which can emerge as a person ages and often has a lot to do with diet and exercise, type 1 diabetes typically emerges during childhood. A diagnosis is made when the body produces little (or in some cases, no) insulin, the hormone critical in allowing sugar to access cells and produce energy.
Although they can emerge at different times during a person’s lifetime, type 1 and type 2 diabetes have similar health effects. Long-term problems include kidney disease, nerve damage, heart disease, and health issues affecting the eyes and feet.