Estimating the worldwide burden of type 1 diabetes

Providing an accurate estimate of the number of children with type 1 diabetes is an essential component of planning health policy, assessing the quality of care and driving research. There is good evidence that the incidence of type 1 diabetes among children is increasing in many parts of the world. The International Diabetes Federation’s Diabetes Atlas, 5th edition, estimates that increase to be 3% per year. The cause of this rise is unknown, although it may be linked to a number of factors. Studies have found associations with older mothers, early exposure to dietary components, such as cow’s milk, and a reduction in the frequency of early infections. Many of these factors can be linked to socioeconomic development and changes in environments. However, there are important geographic differences in the trends, which may reflect underlying differences in ethnicity, exposure to potential risk factors and the capacity of health systems to identify and record people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Leonor Guariguata reports on the global status of type 1 diabetes in children and looks at some the key issues behind the latest figures.