Significant boost in rates of type 2 diabetes among children during COVID-19 pandemic: Researchers say ‘environmental changes due to pandemic’ may be why

In a multi-site study of medical records, researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and across the United States say they have documented a steep rise in type 2 diabetes among children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a report on the findings, published Aug. 17 in The Journal of Pediatrics, the investigators note it is unclear whether the virus infection itself was a factor in the rise, and they point to the switch to virtual learning and shutdown of sports and school activities as “environmental factors” that likely increased risk.

Before the pandemic, type 2 diabetes was increasing among children around the world, and because rates of childhood diabetes are known to rise and fall over time, the investigators launched a nationwide review of medical records to assess the impact of the pandemic, according to Sheela N. Magge, M.D., M.S.C.E., director of the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology at the Children’s Center.

Magge, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-first author of the paper, says reduced physical activity and weight gain are well-known risk factors for type 2 diabetes. “During the COVID-19 lockdown, children were removed from normal day-to-day routines like going to school, playing sports and other hobbies,” Magge says. “Not only were they less physically active, they were confined to their homes and spent a lot more time watching TV, playing video games, or with other electronic devices.”

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disorder that affects the body’s ability to regulate, use and process sugar. Without treatment and control, it can cause heart disease, nerve and kidney damage, impaired vision and other irreversible injury to organs.

Although generally associated with adults, an estimated one-third of American youth are considered at risk because of being overweight and obese. Magge adds that previous research from other institutions has shown that children diagnosed with diabetes appear to get complications faster than adults.

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