White U.S. children have highest rates of diabetes

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Non-Hispanic white children have the highest rates of diabetes in the United States, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday, and the disease appears to be more common than expected.

They said type 1 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in children and teens, but they also noted increases in cases of type 2 diabetes, the kind linked with obesity and lack of exercise.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found about 15,000 youths are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each year.

“We found more type 1 diabetes than we expected in whites, blacks and Hispanics,” said Dr. Dana Dabelea of the University of Colorado in Denver, who led the study.

“Although the rates of type 2 diabetes are relatively low, we did find type 2 in all racial and ethnic groups, including non-Hispanic whites,” she said in a telephone interview.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system goes haywire and starts attacking itself, destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas needed to control blood sugar. People with type 1 diabetes must take daily insulin injections.

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Type 1 diabetes is sometimes called juvenile diabetes. Type 2 formerly was called adult onset diabetes.

Dabelea said the study, which included 2,435 youths with newly diagnosed diabetes in 2002 and 2003, is the largest to measure the rate at which diabetes develops in people under 20.

“What we found is that type 1 diabetes is highest in non-Hispanic white children. The age group at which this disease peaks is around puberty,” Dabelea said.

She found about one in 3,000 non-Hispanic white children in this age group develop type 1 diabetes each year, compared with one in about 5,000 African-American and Hispanic youths.

The rates are much lower, about 1 in 10,000, for Asian Pacific Islanders and American Indian children, she said.

“For type 2 diabetes, the picture is a little different,” she said. “The age group with the highest incidence is adolescents -- 15- to 19-year-olds.”

In this age group, American Indian children are hit hardest, with about one in 2,000 developing type 2 diabetes each year.

The study was designed to specifically look at type 2 diabetes in children in light of rising rates of obesity. The disease, which typically strikes overweight, inactive adults, develops when the body loses the ability to use insulin properly.

“We found overall the rates of type 2 diabetes in kids are relatively low,” she said. “But 15 years ago, there was no type 2 diabetes in kids.”

So while the number is not very high, it is becoming a problem. “In ethnic groups such as American Indians, it is a huge problem,” she said.

Nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, which causes 5 percent of all deaths globally each year. Most have type 2, which can damage blood vessels, leading to loss of toes and limbs, blindness, heart disease and death.