New Concerns about Type 2 Diabetes in Kids

By SugarScience Editor

A report1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has shown that nearly 1% (0.8%) of teenagers in the United States—about 334,752 kids—now have diabetes. While that may sound like a low number, it’s nearly triple the previous estimates, which were 0.34% or about 142,227 teens.  Diabetes can’t be cured.  It can only be managed. Our nation is looking at a future in which ongoing care will be needed.  If nothing shocks us out of “diabetes denial,” numbers like these should.

What’s more striking, though, is what the report says about who these teens are.  The study, conducted by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and Social and Scientific Systems in Maryland, showed stark differences by race/ethnicity. Diabetes prevalence was 0.6% in White teens (6 per 1, 000) but more than twice that -- 1.5% -- in Blacks (15 per 1,000) and 0.9% in Mexican-Americans (9 per 1,000).

Up to half of these teens aren’t aware of their condition, depending on their ethnic group. While 28% of these teens with diabetes were unaware of their diabetes diagnosis, the lack of awareness of their diagnosis was very infrequent in White teens (5%), but much, much higher in Blacks (50%) and Mexican-Americans (44%).  If kids and their parents don’t know of the diabetes, they can’t take steps to prevent the long-term consequences: vision impairment and blindness, limb amputations, and kidney and heart problems.

The investigators could not distinguish between type 1 and 2 diabetes, but recent research into new cases of diabetes suggests that type 1 predominates in higher income White teens, while type 2 predominates in lower income non-White teens. This makes sense when looking at the lack of awareness data presented above.

In addition, this study found that 17% of teens have prediabetes, the antecedent to Type 2. While 15% of all white teens had prediabetes, the rate was higher in Blacks (21%) and Hispanics (23%).  These are kids who we need to find and intervene with to prevent them from acquiring the lifelong, irreversible condition.

These data support the need for multi-sector efforts to prevent new cases of diabetes in youth and young adults that target reductions in heavy sugar consumption—a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes.  A key part of that strategy is efforts to reduce heavy sugar consumption through policy changes that clean up our sugar-saturated environment and school-based interventions shown effective to promote fresh water consumption. 

Accordingly, a small group of us at UCSF have committed to joining together in an initiative called “No New Type 2.”  Stay tuned for more on how we can work together to support the health of our kids.

  • [1]Menke, A., Casagrande, S., & Cowie, C.C. (2016, July 19). Prevalence of Diabetes in Adolescents Aged 12 to 19 Years in the United States, 2005-2014. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) , 316(3), 344-345. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8544. Retrieved from

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes mellitus, formerly called Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) and Adult Onset Diabetes (AODM), is a disease in which our body acts as if it does not have enough insulin to keep our blood sugar levels down at normal levels. This is likely a combined effect of the body not being normally sensitive to the insulin the pancreas does make combined with the pancreas not making enough insulin for the circumstances. There is a genetic component to this disease. The body uses insulin as a signal to store glucose in liver, muscle, and fat cells. High blood glucose causes many changes in the body that lead to damage to many parts of the body over time

SugarScience Glossary

Diabetes mellitus

Usually shortened to just diabetes. Sometimes called sugar diabetes. Look at Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes for more information

SugarScience Glossary