In 2020, Megan Kelsey, MD, an endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, started noticing a worrying pattern. More kids than usual sought care for Type 2 diabetes, and more of those kids were presenting with severe disease. Dr. Kelsey wanted to know if others were experiencing this as well, so she put out a call to colleagues around the country. Some 70 people at 24 different institutions answered.
Analyzing the data
The group formed a consortium to pool and analyze data on Type 2 diabetes in children from March 2020 through February 2021. With the help of data analysis completed by Laura Pyle, PhD, Dr. Kelsey and her colleagues identified several interesting trends.
First, the number of cases of Type 2 diabetes during that time period rose by more than 77% compared to the previous two years. Second, disease severity more than doubled during the studied time period. The team measured disease severity by looking at the proportion of patients who presented in diabetic ketoacidosis or hyperosmolar state, which are considered medical emergencies.
The study also found that cases of Type 2 diabetes rose among Black youth and fell among non-Hispanic white youth. And in contrast to past research, this study found that more males than females were affected. The data showed that 55% of those diagnosed were male and 45% were female.
The implications of Type 2 diabetes trends
Dr. Kelsey hopes this research leads to future studies that examine the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Type 1 diabetes, factors that might have caused the sharp rise in Type 2 diabetes, and whether the increases in rate and severity of youth-onset Type 2 diabetes persist.
While Dr. Kelsey speculates that diet and activity changes during the height of the pandemic may be at least partially responsible for the increase in Type 2 diabetes cases among pediatric patients, she says there are still many avenues to be explored, including a possible link between COVID-19 and diabetes.
She hopes this new data spurs renewed interest in Type 2 childhood diabetes research that could ultimately answer these outstanding questions, improve best practices and treatment, and identify clear risk factors and causes for the disease. Dr. Kelsey is already beginning new work as part of a national study aimed at understanding who is most at risk for developing youth-onset Type 2 diabetes and how to better prevent this disease.