Menus Subscribe Search

Quick Studies

insulin

(Photo: capturelifeinaction/Flickr)

Why Is Type 1 Diabetes Rising Among America’s Youth?

• May 07, 2014 • 10:58 AM

(Photo: capturelifeinaction/Flickr)

New data shows that the incidence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is growing among young Americans. But the rise of Type 1 remains mostly a mystery.

Like the popularity of sugary energy drinks with badass-looking labels, the prevalence of diabetes is rising fast among America’s youth. And we can’t be lured into blaming high-sugar diets for the entirety of the generation’s diabetic epidemic.

Back in 2001, an average of 15 under-20-year-olds in every crowd of 10,000 preteens and teens had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Fast forward to 2009 and that number had jumped to 19. Prevalence of Type 2 diabetes rose among 10- to 19-year-olds during the same period to 4.6 out of every 10,000up from 3.4 eight years earlier.*

That’s according to an analysis of millions of medical records obtained from health care networks in five states and from some American Indian reservations. The fleeting variety of diabetes that expectant mothers sometimes develop was excluded from the results, which were published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

So what’s going wrong? Dana Dabelea, a professor at the University of Colorado-Denver, one of the study’s co-authors, doesn’t think the change was the result of improvements in medical diagnoses. “Diabetes in youth usually presents rather acutely,” she says, so it’s hard for a doctor to miss it for too long.

The increase in Type 2 diabetes, which is brought on among the vulnerable through unhealthy diets, could perhaps be explained away by the depressing stuff that we stuff into our mouths. “Most likely, this is the result of the obesity epidemic,” Dabelea says. The disease develops as tissues become resistant to the insulin that helps regulate blood sugar levels.

But the rise in the prevalence of Type 1 diabetes is not so easy to explain. Type 1 diabetics are born into the disease, harboring a genetic predisposition which allows their immune cells to destroy the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. Most Type 1 diabetics develop symptoms in their youth, which is why the autoimmune disease is often called juvenile diabetes. But the onset can also arrive during adulthood. So perhaps the problem is that the onset of Type 1 diabetes is coming on earlier than used to be the case.

As you can see from the following chart, all types of young Americans seem to be affected by the increase in prevalence of Type 1 diabetes, regardless of gender or race, with the exception of American Indians.

Credit: JAMA Pediatrics(Chart: JAMA Pediatrics)

“It’s likely that something has changed in our environmentsomething that’s causing more youth to develop the disease, maybe at younger ages,” Dabelea says.

Because diabetes is something you hold onto for life, an increase in diabetes rates among young Americans has repercussions for the health of Americans as we age. “These youth will already have had diabetes for a while when they become adults,” Dabelea points outsomething that she says will lead to “increased morbidity from chronic complications,” along with increased health care costs.

Until we understand exactly what causes Type 1 diabetes, we’ll likely remain in the dark about the cause of its rising prevalence.


*UPDATE — May 07, 2014: We originally stated that the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among young people had risen to 46 out of every 10,000, up from 34 eight years earlier. Those numbers have been corrected to 4.6 and 3.4, respectively.

John Upton
John Upton is a freelance journalist with an ecology background. He has written recently for VICE, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, Grist, and Audubon magazine. He blogs at Wonk on the Wildlife. Upton's favorite eukaryotes are fungi, but he won't fault you for being human. Follow him on Twitter @johnupton.

More From John Upton

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


July 24 • 2:00 PM

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.


July 24 • 12:00 PM

What’s in a Name? The Problem With Washington’s Football Team

A senior advisor to the National Congress of American Indians once threw an embarrassing themed party that involved headdresses. He regrets that costume now, but knows his experience is one many others can relate to.


July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.



July 24 • 9:48 AM

The People Who Are Scared of Dogs

While more people fear snakes or spiders, with dogs everywhere, cynophobia makes everyday public life a constant challenge.


July 24 • 8:00 AM

Newton’s Needle: On Scientific Self-Experimentation

It is all too easy to treat science as a platform that allows the observer to hover over the messiness of life, unobserved and untouched. But by remembering the role of the body in science, perhaps we humanize it as well.


July 24 • 6:00 AM

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.