Study finds significant rise in Type 2 Diabetes cases during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Even before COVID-19, type 2 diabetes in children was on the rise. A review of medical records across the country shows that the type 2 diabetes rate has risen sharply during the pandemic. This is especially true for Black and Hispanic children.

The investigators say it’s unclear if the virus itself played a role in the increase. They point out that the shift to virtual learning, as well as the shutdown of school and sports activities are “environmental factors” which likely increased the risk.

During the COVID-19 Lockdown, children were prevented from their normal daily routines, such as going to school, sports and other hobbies. They were not only less active, they also spent more time at home watching TV, playing games or using other electronic devices. Sheela Magne, director of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center’s Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and co-first writer of the review that appeared in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Researchers compared rates of type 2 diabetes new onset among 8-21 year olds in the two years before the pandemic and the first pandemic year (March 1, 2020 to February 28, 2021).

Researchers identified 3,113 children aged 8-21 from 24 different centers in the U.S. during this period. The number of new cases per year increased by 77% from 825 in the pre-pandemic year to 1,463 in the first year.

Records showed that during the first pandemic year, more boys (55%) were diagnosed with diabetes type 2, compared to girls (45%). This was a reverse of the pre-pandemic percentages. Risa Wolf, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Center and co-first author on the paper, said that this was an unusual finding. “We see that type 2 diabetes is diagnosed more often in girls than boys, but it’s not clear why.”

Comparing rates from previous years, Hispanic youth saw a nearly doubled number of cases during the first pandemic year, while Black youth also experienced a doubled number of cases. Investigators found a decline in cases among white youth.

Magge says that type 2 diabetes affects ethnic and racial minorities and families with socioeconomic difficulties disproportionately. The new study shows these disparities have increased.

The findings show that pediatricians and primary care doctors need to be vigilant when screening for type 2 diabetics. Wolf says, “We must identify patients early to intervene in treatment and prevent complications.”

Wolf says that parents should also talk to their child’s doctor about the weight gain. Magge says: “Now is a good time to get your children moving and eating healthy.”

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