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Type 1 diabetes in children under five to double by 2020

Cases of Type 1 diabetes in children under five years across Europe will double by 2020 if present trends continue, with numbers in children older than five also increasing substantially.

To predict the future burden of Type 1 diabetes, the authors analysed diabetes data from 20 centres in 17 European countries during the period 1989-2003. The researchers found:

  • Overall increase in new cases of Type 1 diabetes was 3.9% per year
  • annual increase in the 0 to 4 years age group was 5.4%
  • 4.3% rise in the 5 to 9 years age group
  • 2.9% rise in 10 to 14 year-olds.

There were estimated to have been approximately 15,000 new cases in Europe in 2005, divided among the 0 to 4 years, 5 to 9 years, and 10 to 14 in the ratio 24%, 37% and 34% respectively.

A total of 24,400 new cases is predicted in 2020, with a doubling in the number of cases in children aged under 5 years and a more even distribution across age groups than at present (29%, 37%, and 34% respectively).

If present trends continue, the total number of cases (new and existing) in European children under 15 years is predicted to rise from 94,000 in 2005 to 160,000 in 2020 - a 70% increase.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at leading health charity Diabetes UK, said: "This evidence that children are developing Type 1 diabetes at an increasingly younger age is worrying. Parents have the task of giving their children or babies insulin injections several times a day and their children will be at risk of short term complications such as hypoglycaemic episodes or diabetes ketoacidosis, both of which may require hospital treatment if severe.

"Diabetes can also lead to serious long term complications if not treated effectively. Many people live full and healthy lives, however, the longer the person has diabetes the higher the risk of complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.

"Having a family history of diabetes increases a person’s risk of developing the condition. However, the increase is too steep to be put down to just genetic factors, so it must be due to other environment factors.

"Other research has suggested factors including low and increased birth weight, an increase in the number of caesarean section births and possibly a reduced frequency of early infections. However, a lot more research is needed before we can come to any concrete conclusions about the causes of this rise in Type 1 diabetes in younger children." 

The research is published in The Lancet.

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