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January 2022

Rates of Childhood Diabetes Skyrocket During the Pandemic

The pandemic has brought many children stress, disruption, and a loss of routine. Now, new research suggests they’re at risk for another unwanted memento of this time: diabetes.

Two studies presented at an American Diabetes Association conference found that rates of type 2 diabetes rose rapidly among kids as COVID-19 spread.

In fact, at one children’s hospital, rates of hospitalization for new cases doubled. At another, new cases of diabetes also rose steeply. The risk appeared higher among Black children and those with public insurance.

A growing trend

In type 2 diabetes, the way the body handles insulin causes blood glucose levels to rise too high. It’s different from type 1, where the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.

Once, usually only adults developed type 2 diabetes. But rates of this disease were already rising in youth before COVID-19. The pandemic increased many risk factors. That includes less access to exercise and healthy foods, more screen time, and poor sleep.

Like so many other health problems, the burden has fallen heavily on certain populations. That includes people of color and those with fewer resources, such as access to healthcare and nutritious foods. COVID-19 and its consequences hit these families hardest.

Creating healthier children and communities

Often, type 2 diabetes has no symptoms. If your child is overweight and has other risk factors—such as family history of diabetes or being Black or Latino—talk with their healthcare provider about getting their blood sugar tested.

If left untreated, diabetes can cause problems throughout the entire body. Children’s hearts, nerves, blood vessels, kidneys, and eyes may be damaged.

You can protect them by helping to prevent type 2 diabetes in the first place. Encourage children to exercise, serve more fruits and veggies, and limit screen time. Don’t force your kids to clean their plates. Instead, serve small portions and give more only if they ask.

Children who already have diabetes can follow similar steps to lead normal lives. Work with your child’s healthcare provider on keeping blood glucose under control.

Meanwhile, public health officials stress the importance of addressing inequities. They’re working on policies and programs to improve health in communities with fewer opportunities.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2021
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