April 8, 2022

UW Health Kids observes rise in cases of Type 2 diabetes in children

A parent helping their diabetic child take an at-home blood test

Madison, Wis. – UW Health Kids experts have seen more than a 10 percent increase in cases of Type 2 diabetes in kids since 2018.

The percent of new onset diabetes patients with Type 2 at UW Health Kids went from 5.8 percent in 2018 to 16.4 percent in 2021, according to Dr. Elizabeth Mann, pediatric endocrinologist and director of the Type 2 Diabetes Program at UW Health Kids.

Type 1 diabetes used to be thought of as the only type of diabetes affecting youth, and it remains the most common cause of diabetes in people younger than 18 years old, but rates of Type 2 diabetes have been rising significantly in the last few years, she said.

“This trend is worrisome,” Mann said. “Increased rates of pediatric Type 2 diabetes were recognized before the pandemic, but the trend has accelerated since spring 2020.”

Children are being admitted to American Family Children’s Hospital in higher rates due to diabetes. In 2018, 52 pediatric patients with new onset diabetes were admitted to the hospital, and only three of them were due to Type 2 diabetes. In 2021, 128 children were admitted to the hospital with new onset diabetes and 21 of them were for Type 2 diabetes. So far in 2022, one in six patients admitted to American Family Children’s Hospital with new onset diabetes has Type 2 diabetes, according to Mann.

At UW Health Kids, 31 kids overall were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2021, compared to just 10 in 2018. With the rise in new cases, the demand on the diabetes clinic has increased. In January 2019, there were about 10 visits for pediatric Type 2 diabetes per month, and by December 2021, there were more than 30 per month.

Impacts from stay-at-home orders, decreased physical activity, changes in dietary opportunities, increased chronic stress during the pandemic and the emotional and social impact of isolation all could be playing a role in this increase, according to Mann.

Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot process energy as expected. The body’s primary fuel source is from sugar, called glucose, and most cells in the body use that glucose with the help of a special hormone called insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas can no longer make insulin because the body’s own immune system causes damage to the cells that make insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition resulting from insulin resistance, where the body’s tissues do not respond to a typical level of insulin.

There is often a genetic component to getting diabetes, according to Mann. Parents should beware of the warning signs and have regular checkups with their child’s doctor.

The universal symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite and unintended weight loss. Mann recommends reaching out to a child’s physician immediately to schedule an appointment if you notice these symptoms.

“Untreated, diabetes can lead to serious health conditions requiring hospitalization and may, in rare cases, be fatal,” she said. “But once diagnosed, specialized diabetes providers, like those in our Pediatric Diabetes Program at UW Health Kids, provide tools to help people safely manage all kinds of diabetes."