Health experts see increase in cases of pediatric Type 2 diabetes during pandemic

“My message is it is truly important. If you see your child having symptoms, go sooner, get it recognized and treated sooner.”
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 10:45 AM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - While many people are watching out for the symptoms of COVID-19, health experts are also advising parents to look out for the signs of pediatric Type 2 diabetes in children during the pandemic.

Staff at the American Family Children’s Hospital have seen a recent increase in cases of pediatric Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. M. Tracy Bekx, a pediatric endocrinologist at American Family Children’s Hospital.

“Tracking the obesity epidemic, we have over the last decade seen a rise in pediatric patients with Type 2 diabetes,” said Bekx. “This past year though when you look at the number of patients who are getting admitted with newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes, that number is definitely on the uptick. In addition, we’re just seeing many more newly diagnosed Type 2 patients coming into our outpatient clinic as well.”

Bekx said that Type 1 diabetes, associated with insulin deficiency and autoimmune disease, is typically more common in pediatrics. She said Type 2 diabetes has been more common in adults, and is associated with obesity and insulin resistance.

All of the changes to daily life in 2020, including added stressors, could have pushed some children who had underlying risks over the edge, according to Bekx.

“Insulin resistance we know increases with obesity, increases with sedentary activity. It definitely can have a genetic factor,” she said. “The question is, was it enough of just the pandemic to push some of these people over the edge? They probably already had some underlying risk factors. But yes, I do feel like the sedentary activity, the probably increased screen time, the financial stress that a family might have and the difficulty with food scarcity, all of these are likely playing a role in why we’re seeing a surge in Type 2 diabetes patients in our program, particularly this fall.”

Bekx also said they saw more patients presenting with more severe signs of diabetes in 2020. One possible explanation is hesitation of families to get out and go to the doctor during the pandemic.

“I think that is a strong reason why patients are presenting more severely, is that there may have been some concerns seeking healthcare or delaying or preventing because of the COVID pandemic, and people fearful of reaching out to healthcare providers,” she said. “My message is it is truly important. If you see your child having symptoms, go sooner, get it recognized and treated sooner.”

Symptoms include a person drinking more, increased thirst, peeing more, and weight loss or fatigue, said Bekx. Or, if patients are presenting quite ill, she said they can be very dehydrated, have very high blood sugar, or could be vomiting and have abdominal pain.

Bekx said it’s important to spot the signs, and get treatment early. She also encouraged healthy habits like daily activity and healthy eating.

“We do have the resource here at American Family Children’s Hospital called the pediatric fitness clinic,” she said. “This clinic is focused on helping families and children who are at risk for diabetes. It is staffed by pediatricians, a nutritionist, an exercise physiologist who can really focus and help families and support them in pursuing these healthy lifestyles.”

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