NEEDHAM, Mass. — It’s a chronic disease that’s been increasing in children for years — but a new study finds the pandemic triggered a massive wave of Type 2 Diabetes cases in Americans 21 and under.
The study, which appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics, examined data from 24 Diabetes centers across the U.S. It compared the number of newly diagnosed cases in the years just before COVID-19, with the number newly diagnosed between March 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021 — roughly the first 12 months of the pandemic.
In all, more than 3,000 cases were included in the study — and the results were striking.
In the pre-pandemic years, researchers identified 765 new Type 2 Diabetes cases in young people in 2018 and 886 in 2019.
But the next year case numbers exploded.
The first year of the pandemic, the study found 1,463 new cases in those 24 centers — an average increase over the pre-pandemic years of 77.3%.
At the same time, the study found more cases of severe Diabetes during the pandemic than in the years before — something inferred by the number of young onset patients who required hospital care for the disease rather than out-patient intervention.
The authors say more young people might have wound up hospitalized because of delays in seeking treatment. In the first year of the pandemic, many Americans shied away from medical facilities, for fear of catching COVID-19.
This new data on young-onset Diabetes is particularly troubling when it comes to Blacks and Hispanics. Those groups, combined, accounted for about 75% of the new Diabetes diagnoses during the pandemic — an increase of 5% over 2019. White diagnoses, meantime, declined to about 13%; Asian cases remained stable at just under 3%.
The mean age of diagnosis across all years was just over 14.
As for why cases soared during the pandemic — it’s possibly due to an increase in sedentary activity, brought on by the cancellation of school, sports and other communal activities in 2020.
Along the same lines, the authors speculate whether changes in diet might have contributed, as well.
Many kids suffered stress and depression during the pandemic. The study questions whether psychological factors might have caused damaging physiological changes.
And finally, there is the possibility that infection with COVID-19 may be to blame.
There’s lab evidence, the authors noted, that insulin-producing Beta cells express the ACE2 receptor — the preferred binding site for SARS-CoV-2 — and that Beta cells infected with the virus might secrete less insulin.
Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.
©2022 Cox Media Group