In a new study, diabetes among children has increased greatly over the past year. Rates for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have been increasing in American children since 2001.

The increase in the number of new cases of diabetes among American children may be linked to obesity epidemic; there are still some questions that need to be answered. Type 1 diabetes is not caused by being overweight or lifestyle choices and more research is needed to identify its origins.

Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, have increased by more than 20 percent in the years between 2001 and 2009 according to a new study led by Dana Dabelea, MD, PHD, associate dean for faculty affairs at the University of Colorado School of Public Health. Diabetes affected 189,000 children, aged 20 and younger, with 168,000 children having type 1 diabetes and more 19,000 had type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is not caused by lifestyle. The body attacks insulin-producing cells and disrupts how the body metabolizes carbohydrates. Type 2 diabetes is more commonly associated with poor diet, not enough exercise and being overweight. For type 2 diabetes, either not enough insulin is produced or the body does not use the insulin it produces effectively.

In the study, the number of American children with type 2 diabetes increased by 21 percent while type 1 diabetes increased by 23 percent. Another cause for concern that was discovered by researchers was children with type 2 diabetes were more likely to have protein in their urine. Researchers believe this may put type 2 diabetic children at greater risk for early kidney damage.

Researchers also discovered that diabetic children who watched more than three hours of television had worse blood sugar management and higher blood fat levels than children who watched television less frequently.

An additional study conducted by the same researchers is showing how diabetes, usually an adult disease, may progress more rapidly in children making intervention much more important.

In this study, children with type 2 diabetes were followed for around four years. At the start of the study, 12 percent of children with type 2 diabetes had high blood pressure but at the end of the study, that number increased to around 33 percent. In addition to the increased number of children with high blood pressure, 17 percent had early signs of kidney damage and 13 percent had early signs of eye disease.

More research is needed to uncover the reason why type 1 diabetes has increased so much over the last decade. For children with type 2 diabetes, a healthier lifestyle can manage the disease in its early state. That means healthier food, less television and more physical activities for families.

The studies were presented at the American Diabetes Annual Meeting and should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

The diabetes rates study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States National Institutes of Health.