Diabetes in the Young: a Global Perspective

At a Glance

Total child population (0-14 years, billions) 1.9
Type 1 diabetes in children (0-14 years)  
Number of children with type 1 diabetes (thousands) 479.6
Number of newly-diagnosed cases per year (thousands) 75.8
Annual increase incidence (%) 3.0

Type 1 diabetes is rapidly increasing in children and adolescents in many countries, and evidence suggests that in a growing number of countries type 2 diabetes is now also being diagnosed in childhood.

Challenges of type 1 diabetes in children

Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common endocrine and metabolic conditions in childhood, and incidence is rapidly increasing especially among the youngest children. Insulin treatment is life-saving and lifelong. Self-discipline and adherence to a balanced diet are necessary if the disease is to be well managed. In many countries, especially in less privileged families, access to self-care tools and also to insulin is limited and this may lead to severe handicap and early death in children with diabetes.

Many children and adolescents find it difficult to cope emotionally with their condition. Diabetes causes them embarrassment, results in discrimination and limits social relationships. It may impact on school performance and family functioning. The financial burden may be aggravated by the costs of treatment and monitoring equipment.

Trends in incidence

Two international collaborative projects, the Diabetes Mondiale study (DiaMond) 1  and the Europe and Diabetes study (EURODIAB) 2  have been instrumental in monitoring trends in incidence through the establishment of population-based regional or national registries using standardized definitions, data collection forms and methods for validation.

The incidence of childhood onset type 1 diabetes is increasing in many countries in the world, at least in the under 15-year age group. There are strong indications of geographic differences in trends but the overall annual increase is estimated to be around 3%. There is evidence that incidence is increasing more steeply in some of the low prevalence countries such as those in central and eastern Europe. Moreover, several European studies have suggested that, in relative terms, increases are greatest in young children. There are clear indications that similar trends exist in many other parts of the world, but in sub-Saharan Africa incidence data are sparse or non–existent. Special efforts must be made to collect data, especially in those countries where diagnosis may be missed or neglected and, as a result, children die because they do not receive insulin.

Prevalence of type 1 diabetes in children

It is estimated that annually some 76,000 children aged under 15 years develop type 1 diabetes worldwide. Of the estimated 480,000 children with type 1 diabetes, 24% come from the South-East Asian Region, but the European Region, where the most reliable and up-to-date estimates of incidence are available, comes a close second (23%) (see Figure 2.4).

The continued mapping of global trends in incidence and prevalence of type 1 diabetes in all age groups, through use of data from existing and new registries, is thus important, and in conjunction with other scientific research may provide a logical basis for intervention studies and future primary prevention strategies which must be the ultimate goal.

The background paper, Diabetes in the Young, and country by country estimates on which the summary on type 1 diabetes in the young is based are available in the Downloads section.

Type 2 diabetes in the young

Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents is on the increase in all countries, whether poor or rich. As with type 1 diabetes, many children with type 2 diabetes risk developing complications at an early age, which would place a significant burden on the family and society. There is growing recognition that type 2 diabetes in the young is becoming a global public health issue with a potentially serious health outcome 3 , in spite of the paucity of information in this area. A review of studies on type 2 diabetes in the young is available in the Diabetes Atlas, third edition 4 .

Map 2.4 New cases of type 1 diabetes in children, 0-14 years (cases per 100,000 aged 0-14 years per year), 2010

Go to the map section and select the map of your choice

1: D.I.A.M.O.N.D. Project Group. Incidence and trends of childhood Type 1 diabetes worldwide 1990-1999. Diabet Med 2006; 23 (8): 857-866.

2: Patterson CC, Dahlquist GG, Gyürüs E, et al. Incidence trends for childhood type 1 diabetes in Europe during 1989-2003 and predicted new cases 2005-20: a multicentre prospective registration study. Lancet 2009; 373 (9680): 2027-2033.

3: Fagot-Campagna A, Narayan KM, Imperatore G. Type 2 diabetes in children. BMJ 2001; 322 (7283): 377-378.

4: International Diabetes Federation. The Diabetes Atlas. Third Edition. Brussels: International Diabetes Federation; 2006.