Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common in tweens and teens

About 17 percent of young people in the U.S. are considered obese. Now that figure is being reflected in the rise of diabetes among the young.

For years, health experts have bemoaned the rise of childhood obesity in the United States. About 17 percent of kids and teens in the U.S. are considered obese, a figure that has more than tripled since the 1970s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A report in The New England Journal of Medicine lays out one of the consequences of all the excess weight: a corresponding increase in childhood cases of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when extra body fat makes it hard for cells to use insulin, a hormone that turns sugar into energy. Over time, blood-sugar levels rise and cause blood vessels to become stiff, increasing the risk of life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure, among others. More than 75,000 Americans die of diabetes each year, the CDC says.

Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes, because it would take years to develop. (That’s in contrast to type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, which occurs when the immune system destroys the cells that make insulin.) But these days, doctors are diagnosing type 2 in school-age kids, and occasionally even in toddlers.

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After reviewing data on 10- to 19-year-olds in primarily five states (California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington), researchers determined that 12.5 of every 100,000 of them had type 2 diabetes in 2011 and 2012. That compares with nine cases per 100,000 young people in 2002 and 2003.

After accounting for age, gender, race and ethnicity, the study authors found that the incidence of type 2 diabetes in this age group rose by an average 4.8 percent a year during the study period.

Here are five take-aways from the new data.

Type 2 diabetes rises

Although the difference between nine cases and 12.5 cases per 100,000 people might not sound like much, it means that about 1,500 more kids and teens were being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year at the end of the study period compared with the beginning.

The incidence of type 2 diabetes rose pretty much across the board for 10- to 19-year-olds, regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity. The two exceptions were white kids and youth in Ohio.

Health disparities are increasing

The burden of all these extra cases of type 2 diabetes is not being shared equally.

The racial and ethnic gap was evident in 2003, when the incidences ranged from 4.4 cases per 100,000 people for white youngsters to 22.6 cases per 100,000 people for Native Americans. By 2012, whites still had the lowest incidence and Native Americans still had the highest, but the gap had increased from 3.9 to 46.5 cases per 100,000 people.

In between were Asian-American young people (with 12.2 cases per 100,000),…

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