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Coronavirus US: does covid-19 increase the risk of diabetes in children?

A new study from the CDC found that diabetes diagnoses in children increased in 2020; kids who had tested positive for covid were more likely to become diabetic.

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Coronavirus US: does covid-19 increase the risk of diabetes in children?
CARLOS OSORIO REUTERS

After a year of online learning, that limited the movement of children, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found an increase in the number of children diagnosed with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. More concerning, was the result that children who had tested positive for covid-19 were between 1.3 and 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed as diabetic within the thirty days following their stint with the virus.

Background on the CDC study

To complete the study, researchers at the CDC examined the health records of around 1.8 million children from two major healthcare provides: IQVIA’s (1.7 million children) and HealthVerity (almost 900,000 children). Through this data, they were able to see that from March 2020 to June 2021, pediatric diagnosis of diabetes increased if a child had been sick with covid. Children who had suffered from a non-covid related respiratory illness faced no increased risk.

What could be causing the increase?

There are a few theories the researchers put forward to explain the increased risk faced by children who have had covid. Additionally, the researchers caution that while an increase in this population was seen further research is needed to determine whether or not the diagnosis is "transient or leads to a chronic condition."

Before the pandemic, pediatric diabetes had been on the rise in the United States. In February 2020, the CDC reported that diagnoses had increased "between 2002 and 2015, with a 4.8% increase per year for type 2 diabetes and a 1.9% increase per year for type 1 diabetes."

Increase in children who were pre-diabetic

The increases in Type 2 diabetes could be related to the general health of children which has decreased as foods that are high in fat, sugar, and preservatives become more affordable, compared to healthier options. Before the pandemic around one in five adolescents in the United States was prediabetic. With stay-at-home orders in place, and many children participating in remote learning, they were not able to get as much exercise which researchers say could have exacerbated their pre-diabetic condition.

Covid-19 and its impact on the body

These findings mirror similar reports in adult populations. These individuals showed no signs of being pre-diabetic before the pandemic and doctors are beginning to study why the virus could have this impact on them. This could be due to the way the virus attacks organs like the pancreas which regulate and create insulin in the body.

Additionally, in Europe, several studies published in 2021 also noted an increase in the number of pediatric diabetes diagnoses. This is evidence that there the virus is having an impact on children, rather than just solely being related to the general health profile of children in the US.

In the United Kingdom, one study found that in one unit, doctors reported "an additional 12–15 new type 1 diabetes cases (80% increase) during the COVID-19 pandemic.