The childhood obesity epidemic has caught the nation's attention. This epidemic continues unabated, accompanied by a range of complicated and costly medical problems that threaten not just to shorten our children's lives, but to increase medical spending and medical care use of children and young adults. It also diminishes the quality of life and capacity to make contributions to the social capital that propels a nation such as ours for vast numbers of our nation's children and young adults.
One of the most troubling complications of childhood obesity is that it is pushing way up the numbers of children and young adults with what is called Type 2 diabetes, a disease that as recently as a decade ago occurred almost exclusively among older adults. This increase in numbers of affected children is well recognized.
Pediatric researchers at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine utilized federally funded and collected data that demonstrates an approximately 200% increase in hospitalizations for children with Type 2 diabetes between 1997 and 2003. Their work was presented today at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Toronto.
"What we believe has not ever been documented before about the childhood obesity epidemic and its complications is that the rates of hospitalizations of children for the treatment of complications of Type 2 diabetes have already been increasing at an alarming rate over the past decade, with implications for virtually all aspects of society. We believe that the findings we present in this paper may be the first such data reported on national rates and trends in hospitalization of children with this disease," says senior researcher on the study, Michael Weitzman MD. Using nationally representative data derived from hospital discharge records of US children from 1997, 2000 and 2003, trends in hospitalization rates, length of stay and costs were compared for children with Type 2 diabetes (caused by obesity) and Type 1 diabetes (so called juvenile diabetes, which is not associated with obesity). Moreover, the investigators were able to investigate characteristics of children and families associated with this increase in hospitalizations.
While the rates of hospitalization for Type 1 diabetes increased 15% between 1997 and 2003, rates of hospitalizations for Type 2 diabetes increased a startling and completely unanticipated 200%. Other key findings include:
Hospitalizations for Type 2 diabetes were 1.3 times more likely for males than females. Children aged 9-12 years old had the highest rates of hospitalization for this disease. Children admitted with Type 2 diabetes had significantly longer lengths of stay in the hospital and more diagnoses on record than children with Type 1 diabetes, suggesting greater morbidity among these children. Racially and ethnically minority children, i.e. Black, Hispanic and Native American children had the greatest risks of increasing hospitalizations for this disease, adding to the long and troubling list of health disparities disproportionately suffered by minority children in the USA.
"These findings, based on hospital records of a nationally representative sample of hospitals in the USA, indicate that Type 2 diabetes is increasingly becoming a pediatric illness that results in hospitalizations. It is associated with a very serious number of co-morbidities and complications which may have profound health implications both in childhood and in adulthood," says Rhonda Graves, M.D., the lead author of this study and a pediatric faculty member and hospitalist at NYU Medical Center.
Dr. Graves also notes that "As pediatricians, we must learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of Type 2 diabetes, and in turn, educate the next generation of young physicians to be aware of this ever growing epidemic and how best to prevent and treat it. Equally important is our duty to further explore the mechanisms causing health disparities in this new and profoundly serious child health problem."