Diabetes is striking growing numbers of children around the world as parents and doctors fail to diagnose a disease that until recently was associated mostly with middle-aged and elderly people, experts said on Tuesday. "Diabetes has become a chronic and common disease among children," Francine Kaufman, a professor of paediatrics, told a news conference.
Diabetes is striking growing numbers of children around the world as parents and doctors fail to diagnose a disease that until recently was associated mostly with middle-aged and elderly people, experts said on Tuesday.
“Diabetes has become a chronic and common disease among children ... and often these children die,” Francine Kaufman, a professor of paediatrics at the University of Southern California medical school, told a news conference at the World Diabetes Congress in Cape Town.
New data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) show the two most common types of diabetes—type one, which usually strikes young people, and type two, which has been called “adult onset” diabetes and was once unknown in children—are rising at an alarming rate.
An estimated 70Â 000 children under the age of 15 develop type-one diabetes every year, while type two is also affecting children as young as eight in both developing and developed countries.
Japan saw the prevalence of type-two diabetes among junior high school students almost double to 14% between 1980 and 1995, making it more common in children than type one, while in some parts of the United States type-two diabetes accounts for up to 45% of newly-diagnosed cases, the data said.
The growing threat of childhood diabetes is part of a wider diabetes epidemic that experts say may affect close to 400-million people worldwide by 2025.
The IDF has declared 2007 “The Year of the Child” in an effort to educate parents and paediatricians on the risks young people face.
Kaufman said doctors are still trying to understand the rapid spread of diabetes in children, but that poor eating habits and lack of exercise—once the prerogative of older people in rich countries but now almost a global phenomenon—are largely to blame.
“The childhood obesity epidemic is really driving diabetes in children,” she said.
Diabetes of both types is particularly dangerous for children and a missed diagnosis can prove fatal.
“The young tend to run into problems quickly,” said Henk-Jan Aanstoot, a paediatric diabetes specialist from Rotterdam who is helping to coordinate the IDF’s childhood diabetes campaign.
While type one can be managed with regular insulin injections, failure to start treatment can leave children at risk of rapid dehydration that can end in a deadly swelling of the brain.
Young people with untreated type-two diabetes are also at risk for deadly complications, ranging from heart attacks to coma.
Both types of diabetes increase the likelihood of kidney and heart problems, blindness and nerve disease, which can require the amputation of feet and lower legs.
Aanstoot said the biggest problem of childhood diabetes is the failure of parents and doctors to catch it, with symptoms such as excessive thirst and extreme tiredness often being overlooked or misattributed.
While young people who are not properly diagnosed can end up facing a lifetime of insulin injections and expensive drug treatments, early detection of diabetes or other blood-sugar problems can result in effective interventions to slow the progress of the disease. “The test is just a finger prick away, and can prevent a lot of problems,” he said.—Reuters