Report suggests 30% of U.S. children are prediabetic

by mcardinal

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


A new report from JAMA Pediatrics found that nearly 30% of children in the United States are considered prediabetic, more than doubling the number of children in this category the last time data was assembled.

A team of researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a CDC-led survey that is conducted to assess national nutrition and health trends. The survey results for over 6,600 individuals aged 12 to 18 years old were examined based on responses collected from different time frames over the last few decades. The results showed that between 2015 and 2018 28% of children had prediabetes, up from 12% between 1999 and 2002. 

Additionally, researchers found that between 2015 and 2018 40% of children with prediabetes are overweight. This number jumped from 18.2% that was reported in 1999 to 2002.   

Study co-author and assistant professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, Junxiu Liu, told UPI in an interview that “these numbers are striking, and it’s pretty clear that, if we don’t do something to bring down these numbers, we are going to see a significant increase in diabetes in the United States.”

Prediabetes is characterized by elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream, but not high enough for a person to be diagnosed with diabetes.  The CDC and American Diabetes Association estimate that there are about 100 million Americans with prediabetes and an additional 35 million Americans diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

Researchers analyzed thousands of survey reports in an attempt to determine what risk factors had a significant impact on the marked increase in numbers. They found that socioeconomics, obesity, and gender were primary contributing factors. They found a substantial correlation between those who live in poverty and the likelihood of prediabetes, noting that the prevalence for this group doubled from 1999. Also notable was the prevalence among boys as the data increased from 15.8% to 36.4%, while up from 7.1% to 19.6% among girls.

Liu puts the responsibility on parents and caregivers to correct this trend saying, “Parents and others responsible for children’s diets must do more to ensure they receive adequate nutrition and reduce their sugar intake,” He also relayed that encouraging physical activity amongst youth must be a priority to help prevent prediabetes and diabetes. 

Though type 2 diabetes has been linked to family history, obesity and other lifestyle factors can put children at a greater risk of developing the disease. This type of diabetes can often be delayed or prevented by exercise, nutrition, and weight loss.

The WHO estimates that 39 million children under age 5 were overweight or obese in 2020, and 340 million children aged 5 to 19 were obese or overweight in 2016. Childhood obesity is not only associated with diabetes, but other physical issues such as asthma, orthopedic issues, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and high cholesterol. 

 The CDC is calling this an “emergent health threat” with almost “1 in 5 adolescents aged 12-18 years, and 1 in 4 young adults aged 19-34 years, living with prediabetes.” Dr. Ann Albright, Ph.D., director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation said, “We’re already seeing increased rates of type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related complications in youth and young adults, and these new findings are evidence of a growing epidemic and a tremendously worrisome threat to the future of our nation’s health.”

She also noted that additional research needs to be done to identify and implement appropriate interventions. Previous research, however, has shown that lifestyle changes can make a big impact. Weight management and exercise can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 58%.