Teens and Diabetes: The Next Obesity Epidemic?


Diabetes prevalence among adolescents is higher than previously reported.

According to a press release issued by the JAMA Network Journals, a new study suggests that more adolescents in the US may have diabetes than previously reported. And of those adolescents, a large percentage were unaware they had the disease.

picture of a child weighing the option between a healthy snack and fatty oneThis study is especially important when considering that about 208,000 young people under 20 years old in the US have diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Though most of those adolescents have type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is becoming more common as childhood obesity rates soar.

“To our knowledge, these are the first estimates of diabetes in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents using all 3 American Diabetes Association recommended biomarkers,” write the authors in the study.

To conduct the study, a research team led by Andy Menke, PhD, of Social & Scientific Systems in Silver Spring, Md., examined nationally representative data. Researchers used the 2005-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19 years old who were randomly selected for a morning examination session after fasting.

The team found that out of the 2,606 adolescents included, 62 had diabetes, and 20 were undiagnosed. They also found that 512 adolescents had pre diabetes. The weighted prevalence of diabetes was 0.8 percent (29 percent of which were undiagnosed), and the prevalence of pre diabetes was 18 percent.

“The estimates are higher than previously reported; 1 study found diagnosed diabetes in 0.34 percent of participants aged 10 to 19 years,” write the authors in the study.

According to the study, pre diabetes was more common in males than females (22 percent versus 13 percent). The results also suggested that the percentage of adolescents with undiagnosed diabetes and pre diabetes were higher in non-Hispanic black participants and Hispanic participants than non-Hispanic white participants.

The NIH reports that children and teens are more likely to develop diabetes if they have a family history of the disease, weigh too much or don’t get enough physical activity. Adolescents are also more at risk for developing diabetes if they are Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, African American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander.

The full study was published in JAMA. It was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


The JAMA Network Journals, “Estimated prevalence of diabetes among adolescents higher than previously reported”
NIH, “Diabetes in Children and Teens”
NIH, “Tips for Teens: Lower Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes”
CDC, “Childhood Obesity Facts”
Written by: Erica Fitzgerald | Medically reviewed by: Dr. Robert Carlson, M.D.