Study Shows Rates of Type 2 Diabetes in Children Rose During COVID-19 Pandemic

Analysis from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and University of Colorado indicates that cancellation of sports and a switch to virtual learning likely increased this risk.

Investigators at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in collaboration with the University of Colorado School of Medicine have documented steep rises in type 2 diabetes (T2D) rates among children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report published in The Journal of Pediatrics, they noted that it is unclear whether the disease was a factor in the rise.

But cancellation of sports and the switch to virtual learning are environmental factors that likely increased this risk, they said.

“During the COVID-19 lockdown, children were removed from normal day-to-day routines, like going to school, playing sports, and other hobbies,” Sheela Magge, MD, MSCE, director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at the Children’s Center, said in a statement. “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.”

Investigators launched a nationwide review of medical records to assess the impact of the pandemic on children and T2D risk.

They compared the rates of new-onset T2D among individuals aged 8 to 21 years in the 2 years prior to the pandemic from March 1, 2018, until February 29, 2020, with the first year of the pandemic from March 1, 2020, to February 29, 2021.

Investigators included 3113 pediatric individuals from 24 centers across the United States. The average number of new diagnoses in the 2 years prior to the pandemic increased to 1463 from 825 during the first year of the pandemic, which was an increase of approximately 77%.

During the first year of the pandemic, the records showed that more males were diagnosed with T2D than females, which was a reversal of percentages pre-pandemic.

Compared with the rates in previous years, the number of diagnoses among Hispanic individuals nearly doubled during the first year of the pandemic, while the number of diagnoses among Black individuals doubled.

Among white individuals, cases decreased.

The study showed that the disparities among ethnic and racial minority populations and families with socioeconomic challenges deepened during this time, Magge said.

This new analysis documented the rise in cases with measures of increased body mass index, as well as higher blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c test results.

Additionally, during the pre-pandemic years, more individuals were diagnosed as outpatients than during the pandemic year, investigators said.

During the pandemic, more individuals were diagnosed and treated as inpatients, which suggested greater severity of T2D.

Overall, investigators found that 21% of individuals diagnosed had metabolic decompensation, with the most serious symptoms being confusion, lethargy, rapid breathing, and vomiting. For children before the pandemic, these symptoms occurred in just 9% of individuals with new-onset T2D.

There was the potential for inconsistencies in reporting or missing information, because the study was a retrospective review of medical records, investigators said.

However, the findings indicate a need for pediatricians and other primary-care physicians to screen for T2D, they said.

Reference

Significant boost in rates of type 2 diabetes among children during COVID-19 pandemic. News release. EurekAlert. August 23, 2022. Access August 24, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/962524