More evidence ties childhood obesity to type 2 diabetes in kids

(Reuters Health) - Rates of type 2 diabetes among children in the UK have been rising, and tracking along with increased obesity and severe obesity, researchers say.

Based on data for hundreds of thousands of UK children and teens, the study found that obese kids were four times as likely as normal weight children to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which has already been linked to obesity in adults.

“Obesity is a major global health issue. More than half of adults and one out of three children leaving primary school are now overweight or obese,” said lead study author Ali Abbasi of King’s College London.

More than 12 million children and teens in the United States are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 3,600 cases of type 2 diabetes are diagnosed in children and teens each year in the U.S.

“The rapidity of the increase in type 2 diabetes is a real concern, which may have an important impact on the health of future generations,” Abbasi told Reuters Health by email.

Abbasi and colleagues looked at records from 375 doctors’ offices across the UK for the years 1994 through 2013. They analyzed data from 369,362 patients between ages 2 and 15, tracking new cases of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes and comparing them to children’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height, over time.

There were 654 type 2 diabetes cases and 1,318 type 1 diabetes cases diagnosed during the study period.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes among the children rose from 6.4 cases per 100,000 people per year in 1994 - 1998 to 33.2 cases per 100,000 per year in 2009 - 2013, the study team reports in Journal of the Endocrine Society.

The increase took place primarily among overweight and obese children, and the greatest risk was seen among the obese kids.

During the same period, the increase in proportion of kids who were obese stabilized, the researchers note, but BMIs among obese children rose, meaning obesity became more severe.

Type 1 diabetes incidence also rose, though less dramatically, from 38.2 cases per 100,000 per year to 52.1 per 100,000 per year over the study period but there was no link to overweight or obesity.

“Unfortunately, little surprises me about the findings of this study, since we have been reporting an increasing risk of type 2 diabetes in children in the Pima Indians since the 1970s,” said Robert Nelson of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases office in Phoenix, who wasn’t involved with the study.

“The next steps are to carefully characterize the magnitude of obesity and its impact on diabetes incidence,” he told Reuters Health by email. “We are finding in American Indians that children who are severely obese have a far higher incidence than those who are obese or overweight.”

Nelson and colleagues are studying ways to manage pregnancy weight gain and prevent gestational diabetes in mothers, which increases the risk of the child developing diabetes early in life.

“Understanding the relationship between obesity and diabetes in kids is important because diabetes can actually develop in children while they’re still children,” said Asheley Skinner of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved with the study.

“One important aspect to note is that about half of kids who develop type 2 diabetes aren’t obese,” she told Reuters Health. “Those who are obese have four times the risk, but that only represents part of equation. Obesity isn’t the only important risk factor here.”

“We spend a lot of time and effort on trying to reduce obesity, and it’s often not successful,” Skinner said. “We should use diet and activity in all kids to reduce the risk for diabetes, as well as other diseases later in life.”

SOURCE: Journal of the Endocrine Society, online April 25, 2017.