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Surge in child diabetes linked to Covid pandemic

Posted on the 3rd August 2023

Childhood Diabetes Covid

Researchers have noted an unusual rise in the number of children and teenagers around the world diagnosed with type 1 diabetes since the Covid pandemic.

Published in the JAMA Network Open journal, the study collated data from around the world on more than 38,000 diagnoses made during the pandemic.

The authors describe the increase in cases as "substantial” but do note that further investigation is required to understand why the rise is happening.

It is thought that some of it could be down to catch-up - from backlogs and delays when health services were shut - but scientists say this does not explain all of the newly diagnosed cases.

Before the pandemic, the incidence rate of childhood type 1 diabetes was already increasing by about 3 per cent a year.

This latest study found:

  • there was a 14 per cent rise in the rate during the first year of the pandemic, compared to before Covid
  • in the second year of Covid, the rate was up about 27 per cent on pre-pandemic levels

Researchers from the University of Toronto say, regardless of the cause, more resources and support may be needed for the growing number of children and adolescents affected by type 1 diabetes.

Experts say it is unclear what has triggered the surge in cases, but there are some theories.

One such theory is that Covid can trigger a reaction in some children which increases the risk of diabetes. But among the studies looking for this type of autoimmune reaction - where the body starts to attack some of its own healthy cells - not all have found evidence to support this theory.

Another hypothesis is that exposure to some germs in childhood can help guard against a number of conditions, including diabetes.

Some scientists believe it is possible that lockdowns and physical distancing during Covid meant many children did not get sufficient exposure to germs and missed out on this additional protection.

Dr Faye Riley, from Diabetes UK, said: "Research worldwide has identified higher than expected numbers of diabetes diagnoses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This study adds to the evidence.

"Future studies that examine longer-term trends will be important to disentangle the impact of the pandemic from natural fluctuations in incidence of type 1 over time, as well as establishing the range of factors that could be behind any apparent rise."

Related: ‘Game-changer’ diabetes drug approved

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