New Study: Type 2 Diabetes on the Rise in U.S. Youth

A new study projects the future of diabetes cases in America’s youth, showing worrisome signs for the future if past trajectories continue.

Key takeaways:
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    New study projects that type 2 diabetes numbers in young Americans to rise nearly 700% by 2060.
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    This new data comes after the CDC adjusted its body mass index (BMI) for children last month.
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    Obesity links to increases in type 2 diabetes, but healthy lifestyle habits can prevent the condition.

Those with diabetes under 20 years old in the United States are set to increase dramatically, according to a new study. The number of young Americans with the chronic health condition could reach 526,000 by 2060.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health funded the research published December 29, 2022, in Diabetes Care.

CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry, MD, MPH, emphasized in a press release that the new research should signal a change in creating a more healthy culture.

"This new research should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. It’s vital that we focus our efforts to ensure all Americans, especially our young people, are the healthiest they can be,... The COVID-19 pandemic underscored how critically important it is to address chronic diseases, like diabetes. This study further highlights the importance of continuing efforts to prevent and manage chronic diseases, not only for our current population but also for generations to come."

Debra Houry, MD, MPH

The new research, Projections of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes Burden in the U.S. Population Aged , used old data between 2002 and 2017 to predict future trends.

If the course continues, type 2 diabetes cases are expected to increase from 28,000 to 220,000, a nearly 700% increase. For type 1 diabetes, cases are expected to grow from 185,000 to 306,000. Overall, the total number of diabetes cases will be 526,000 in 2060, based on this model.

CDC changes BMI scale for children

This study comes after last month’s CDC body mass index (BMI) adjustment due to increased obesity rates in children. BMI is a mathematical formula calculating a person’s weight in pounds divided by the square of height in feet. A good BMI score for adults ranges from 18.5–24.9. Those with obesity are six times more likely to acquire type 2 diabetes.

Previously the BMI scale was charted as high as 37 for children, but with new data, the scale reaches 60. Although BMI is important for determining health, it is not the automatic answer for children. BMI is age and sex-specific, often referred to as BMI-for-age for children and teens. Other factors, including family history, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, eating patterns, and physical activity, are evaluated when determining a child’s future health standing.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes affects how the body turns food into energy. After eating, the body breaks down the food consumed into sugar (glucose), which is released into the bloodstream. When blood sugar rises, the pancreas receives a signal to increase insulin — which serves as a key to allow blood sugar into the body’s cells for energy.

Diabetes patients are not able to make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as healthy individuals. Insulin reduction or cells no longer responding to insulin will increase blood sugar in the bloodstream, leading to health complications, including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

Type 1 diabetes is believed to be caused by the body attacking itself as a mistake, known as an autoimmune reaction. Currently, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. Those with type 1 diabetes must take insulin each day.

Type 2 diabetes occurs in individuals who don’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. Unlike type 1 diabetes, steps can be taken to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Over 96 million U.S. adults currently have prediabetes, which occurs when blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough yet for a diabetes diagnosis. Most with prediabetes are not aware of their condition.

Steps to prevent type 2 diabetes:

  • Healthier eating habits
  • Increase levels of activity
  • Losing weight

Childhood obesity is a growing health crisis in the U.S., serving as a leading cause to type 2 diabetes. Nearly one in five children in the U.S. is currently obese.

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 60 minutes of activity per day for children. A healthy level of activity combined with smarter food choices featuring fruits, vegetables, and lean meats versus fast food, fried foods, or processed foods is a great start.

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