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Diabetes in Young Children

Diabetes in young children rose by a staggering 70 per cent, according to a new U.S. study.

The research, published in the journal Diabetes Care, looked at children in with type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes.

It found that over a span of two decades, from 1985 to 2005, the number of cases involving children under the age of five, in Philadelphia had increased by 70 per cent and the number of cases among all children up to the age of 14, rose by 29 per cent.

These increases are paralleling those seen across the rest of the U.S. as well as in Europe, the study says.

But its lead author, Terri Lipman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing is at a loss to explain why.

Of the two most common forms of diabetes, type 2 typically affects adults who can still produce insulin, but whose bodies cannot use the hormone to regulate blood sugar.

Type 1, previously known as juvenile diabetes, typically strikes children whose immune systems have killed off insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The disease is usually fatal if left untreated.

In 1985, according to a registry of Philadelphia children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, 13.4 out of every 100,000 children in Philadelphia was newly diagnosed with the disease. In 2004, the rate was 17.2 cases per 100,000.

Type 1 diabetes tends to start in adolescence, but experts say parents need to be aware that toddlers and pre-schoolers are also susceptible, given the rising number of cases in very small children.

Children from Chicago to Colorado to Finland have similarly increased rates of type 1 diabetes, though the cause eludes researchers.

“Why are we seeing this large increase in type 1 diabetes in very young children? Unfortunately, the answer is we don’t know,” Professor Lipman told Reuter’s Health.

“The data is controversial, so that’s why I’m certainly very reluctant to propose a theory when nothing has been proven,” she added.

Carol Levy, a type 1 diabetes specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who was not involved in the study, agreed this young group is a mystery.

“Make sure your child has a healthy lifestyle and maintains normal body weight, whether that’s a guarantee we’re going to reduce risk, we don’t know at this point,” she added.

Several theories vie to explain the recent rise in diabetes among youth, including vitamin D deficiencies, lack of breastfeeding and over-hygienic environments that might cause the immune system to backfire.

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of diabetes, which can include extreme thirst, bed wetting or accidents in toilet-trained children or excessively wet diapers in babies, said Lori Laffel, of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.

By the time the disease is diagnosed, many infants and toddlers are very sick and the degree of illness tends to be more severe the younger the patient, experts noted.

“The young child isn’t able to talk about symptoms,” Laffel said. “A young child may be in diapers, you may not notice because diapers are often wet.”

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