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Childhood diabetes to double

The number of children under five in Europe with type 1 diabetes will double by 2020, according to leading researchers

The incidence of type 1 diabetes in children under the age of five in Europe will double by 2020 if current trends continue, according to experts.

Researchers from Ireland and Hungary have also warned that the number of cases of type 1 diabetes in the over-fives would also increase significantly over the period.

To predict the future impact of the disease in children, researchers analysed diabetes data from 29,311 cases recorded at 20 centres in 17 European countries from 1989-2003. The data showed an overall increase in new cases of type 1 diabetes of 3.9 per cent per year. Over the period the annual increase in children aged 0-4 years was 5.4 per cent and in those aged 5-9 years old there was a rise of 4.3 per cent. In 10-14-year-olds the increase was lower at 2.9 per cent.

Writing in the Lancet, researchers estimate that there were 15,000 reported new cases of type 1 diabetes in children in Europe in 2005, divided among the 0-4 years, 5-9 years and 10-14 years in the ratio of 24 per cent, 37 per cent and 34 per cent, respectively.

Researchers from Queen's University in Belfast and Pecs University in Hungary predict that there will be 24,400 new cases of type 1 diabetes in children by 2020.

If the present trend continues, the total number of cases of the disease, both new and old, in children in Europe under 15 is expected to rise from 94,000 in 2005 to 160,000 in 2020 – an increase of 70 per cent.

"This evidence that children are developing type 1 diabetes at an increasingly younger age is worrying," said Dr Ian Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK. "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 and diabetes ketoacidosis, both of which may require hospital treatment if severe."

Researchers say that genetics alone cannot account for the dramatic rise in the number of childhood cases of the disease and warn that lifestyle factors play a significant role. The highest increase in the disease has been in Eastern Europe where lifestyle habits are changing more rapidly than in wealthier Western nations.

"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," said Dr Frame.

"Other research has suggested factors including low and increased birth weight, an increase in the number of caesarean section births and possibly 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," he added.

28th May 2009


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