Rates of type 2 diabetes rising in Auckland kids

07 May 2018
Girl with an apple

New research shows increasing numbers of children and teens under-15 in Auckland are developing type 2 diabetes, and that rates among Pacific and Māori children are up to 18  times higher than for European children.

The findings are based on 21 years of patient records from the Starship Paediatric Diabetes Service.

Study leader Dr Craig Jefferies says the data dispels a common myth that children don't get diabetes. “People still don’t think kids get diabetes, let alone type 2 diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle factors and usually develops in adulthood. Until recently it was extremely rare to see a child or teenager with type 2 diabetes – the first childhood cases were identified in New Zealand only in the 1990s, he says.

Dr Jefferies is a paediatric endocrinologist at Starship Child Health and has seen children as young as 10 present with type 2 diabetes.

 “The current rate at which the type 2 diabetes incidence is increasing is similar to the increase in the type 1 diabetes population, which is 3-5 percent per year. So this is a slow and steady incidence increase.”

The study found that from 1995 to 2015, the service treated 104 young people for with Type 2 Diabetes, giving an overall incidence of 1.5 per 100,000.

However, that jumps to 3.6 per 100,000 for Pacific Island youth and 3.3 per 100,000 for Māori, compared to 1.4 per 100,000 in Asian/Middle eastern children and almost no cases in Europeans (0.2 per 100,000).

Girls and children from poorer households were also over-represented.

“The ethnic differences are striking and are partly related to differences in the rates of overweight and obesity – although, as the differences in weight problems between ethnic groups is smaller than the differences in type 2 diabetes rates, weight is not the whole picture.

"We are also seeing increases in type 2 diabetes in Asian youth that were not seen before – though this may reflect immigration patterns,” says Dr Jefferies.

“Some families are shocked by the diagnosis – they don’t see diabetes as a childhood disease. In other families, where lots of other family members already have it, there’s almost a sense of fatalism. But if you pick it up early, you can manage it through diet, exercise and medication.