A Significant Spike in Rates of Type 2 Diabetes in Children Since COVID

A new study found a marked increase in the rise of type 2 diabetes children during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly Black and Hispanic children. The results were published this month in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Prior to COVID, the rate of type 2 diabetes was already on the rise among children globally. Childhood diabetes rates are known to fluctuate, therefore, the investigators of this analysis sought to assess whether or not the pandemic has impacted childhood diabetes numbers.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, children were removed from normal day-to-day routines like going to school, playing sports and other hobbies,” says Sheela N. Magge, M.D., M.S.C.E.director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at the Children’s Center via a press release. “Not only were they less physically active, they were confined to their homes and spent a lot more time watching TV, playing video games, or with other electronic devices.”

In this study, the investigators compared the rates of new-onset type 2 diabetes among people age 8 to 21 two years prior to the pandemic (March 1, 2018, to Feb. 29, 2020) to the first year of COVID (March 1, 2020, to Feb. 28, 2021). Overall, they identified 3,113 pediatric patients during that period. Alarmingly, the researchers observed that the average number of new diagnoses per year in the two pre-pandemic years increased appreciably, by 77%. Specifically, the analysis showed that more boys than girls were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (55% vs. 45%), which surprisingly, was a reversal compared to pre-pandemic rates. “This was one of the more unusual findings from our study,” says pediatric endocrinologist Risa Wolf, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-first author of the paper. “Typically, we see more girls than boys who are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, though it’s unclear why.”

Notably, the number of diagnoses among Hispanic youth nearly doubled during the pandemic, while the rates of type 2 diabetes did double among Black youth. There was an actual decrease in cases among White youth, highlighting that COVID has augmented racial disparities in health care.

Dr. Magge says: “Now is the time to focus on exercising and a healthy diet for your kids.”