Diabetes Rates Skyrocket in American Youth

The prevalence of Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes jumped by 21% and 30%, respectively, in US youth over an eight-year period, according to new data from the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study. An estimated 215,000 Americans under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Education Program.


Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing it to secrete little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is defined by insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not use insulin efficiently, and insufficient insulin secretion by the pancreas.

To estimate changes in the prevalence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in youth in the United States, researchers collected data from more than three million children and adolescents seen at centers in California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington state, as well as on American Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. The data was collected between 2001 and 2009 and included cases of doctor-diagnosed Type 1 diabetes in children ages 0–19 and Type 2 diabetes in children ages 10–19.

In 2001, the prevalence of Type 1 among the study subjects was 1.48 per 1,000, which had increased to 1.93 per 1,000 by 2009. After adjustment, this represented a 21% increase in the condition over the eight-year study period. The greatest increase was seen in adolescents 15–19 years old. The rise was not confined only to the traditional at-risk group of white adolescents, but rather was seen in children and adolescents of white, black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander descent.

“I don’t understand the basis for an increase,” said Robin S. Goland, MD, of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, who was not involved in the research. “There are a few possibilities, but we need to figure it out if it’s something in the environment or something in our genes.”

The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in the study population was 0.34 per 1,000 in 2001, increasing to 0.46 per 1,000 in 2009, representing an increase of roughly 30.5% in eight years. A significant increase was seen across all age groups and in white, black, and Hispanic youth. This rise was likely attributable to the obesity epidemic and the long-term impact of higher rates of gestational diabetes, according to the researchers.

“Our study is really the first in the US to quantify the burden of Type 2 diabetes at the population level — and not just in a clinic or group of clinics, [but] in all major racial/ethnic groups in the US — and documents increasing trends in several racial-ethnic groups,” said lead study author Dana Dabelea, MD, PhD.

The rise in diabetes cases in youth is important, the researchers observed, because these children will enter adulthood with several years of diabetes duration and an increased risk of early complications. The youth will also have diabetes during their childbearing years, which could increase the diabetes rate in the next generation.

Further study is needed to address the cause of the increases in Type 1 and Type 2, the study authors note.

Because the study ended in 2009, it cannot provide information about diabetes trends in youth over the past five years. Also, because it included only children and adolescents who had been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, it may have missed those who would have met the criteria for the condition had they been screened.

For more information, read the article “Large increase in type 1, 2 diabetes among US youth, study shows” or see the study in Journal of the American Medical Association. And for more about diabetes in children, click here.

What do you believe accounts for the increasing rates of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in American youth? Let us know with a comment.

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  • David Spero RN

    No link has ever been established between diet and Type 1. So it seems like environmental chemicals, in food, packaging, or wherever, are the most likely cause of the rise in both types.

  • Ric Shanahan

    In my opinion any increase in diabetes in American youth should be connected to some measurable cause. The youth today do not seem too have much necessary physical activity. Farm chores are a thing from in the past. Other than sports there is very little physical challenge. The recent focus on diet and nutrition is long overdue. Sedentary behavior contributes to an overall decline in fitness. Diabetes and other diseases may simply be a natural outcome.

  • John Christian

    In the 60’s it was salt in almost everything we consumed. And diseases as heart attacks and strokes had increased; and were the major issues. Since that time, many, if not all, food manufacturers have replaced salt, or some form, as a preservative with sugar, or some form.

    Others also added benzene, or some form, since sugar is not as good as salt as a preservative. Which might explain the rise in cancer among youth as well (a side bar).

    Add the insane marketing of products directed at children, teenagers, and young adults with high sugar contents, it is no wonder that Diabetes is growing alarmingly. With clinicians stating that sugar is not the problem; and that is it just genetic, causes one to wonder at what information / raw data they are using. Or is it just to delay the inevitable facts that we are consuming too much sugar in any form; especially without any realization because of other political/commercial interests.

    I cannot count how many times I read labels that in one section (chart) showed little to no sugars, while in the other section (ingredients) had sugar, or some form, as one of the top 5 ingredients. I am NOT speaking of the natural sugars found in fruit, vegetable, grain, and dairy. I am speaking of the additives for preserving, supposedly their products.

    Today’s diet, or food produce, has more sugars in them than what people consumed in the past. Many food items, that were previously made without sugar, now include sugar in their processing, as manufacturers did with salt. It is disheartening that we must perform “Caveat Emptor” on everything we purchase; else accept becoming Diabetics; as I have become from sugared products.

  • Bean Bagger

    If you ask me the number 1 culprit is diet. Makes you fat and lazy.

    Remind me of the Indian tribe in the Amazon that they did a documentary on TV decades ago.

    I remember one particular scene where the guys said the traders would trade “sweet biscuits” they brought with the Indians who took a liking to it.

    And I remember in one scene a young adult lady who swung in a hammock and they pointed to her and said since they have been eating these “sweet biscuits” they don’t want to do anything else but eat them.
    They don’t want to work.

    And they said later many were getting fat,sick, diabetic, etc., typical of Western diet.

  • Operationajax

    I associate the rise of those being diagnosed with type II diabetes to high fructose corn syrup. Next time you’re at the store, or even run to your food pantry, look at a food label. Odds are it has high fructose corn syrup in it.

  • Deb

    As an elementary teacher for 39 years, I’ve seen an increase in overweight children directly proportional to the decrease in physical education. When my students had PE, they not only got exercise there, they played at recess. Now with students receiving very little PE instruction, I see students who are very passive at recess. They don’t know how to play! If it wasn’t for some community sports teams, many students wouldn’t exercise. Seems like they’ve lost the joy of playing outside. Most of my students report spending hours at home playing electronic games.