The World Health Organization has been gathering information on diabetes for more than 20 years. Its findings show that diabetes is second only to asthma as the most common chronic childhood disease. New research shows a racial divide when it comes to what type of diabetes a child is most likely to get. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Each year in the United States, doctors diagnose about 15,000 children ages 10 to 14 with type 1 diabetes, meaning their bodies cannot make the hormone insulin that regulates blood sugar.
Compare this to fewer than 4,000 American children and teens diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin that is produced.
Thirteen-year-old Sierra Horecky has type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed almost three years ago after she fell into a coma.
"I was really surprised, and I guess I was kinda mad,” says Horecky. “I was, like, 'Why me?' I guess."
Dr. Dana Dabelea is a researcher at the University of Colorado. She does not have all the answers to Sierra's question, but she has some clues.
"We found that type 1 diabetes is very, very common in all racial (and) ethnic groups, but especially in white kids," says Dabelea.
She says Caucasian children in general have a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes than children of other races. And, while race may be a factor in Sierra's illness, the cause is still a mystery.
"For type 1 diabetes, unfortunately, there is no current prevention because, unfortunately, we do not know what causes type 1 diabetes yet," adds Dabelea.
Research shows strong genetic risk factors for both types of diabetes. Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes worldwide, although it is much more common in adults than in children. Health officials have tracked an increase in diabetes in all parts of the world at the same time they have seen a marked increase in obesity worldwide. In the United States, children with type 2 diabetes are more likely to be African American, American Indian, Hispanic, or Asian American.
"Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult onset diabetes, and did not used to occur in children. However, we are now seeing type 2 diabetes at younger and younger ages."
Researchers found that babies whose mothers have diabetes are more likely to become obese. They suspect the increasing rates of childhood obesity may be driving up the frequency of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers.
Dr. Dabelea participated in a nationwide research group on diabetes. The study has been published in the Journal of the America Medical Association.