Medical mystery: The rise of Type 1 diabetes in infants and toddlers

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Health care professionals and researchers are scrambling to understand why there is a sharp increase in the number of cases reported of children with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, typically strikes those whose immune systems have killed off insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The disease tends to start in adolescence, but in light of the rising number of cases in very young children, experts have stated that parents need to be aware that toddlers and preschoolers are also at risk.

The new research, published in the journal Diabetes Care, updated a registry started in 1985 of Philadelphia children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In 1985, cases of type 1 diabetes were seen at a rate of 13.4 for every 100,000 children in Philadelphia. By 2005, the rate was 17.2 cases per 100,000, amounting to an increase of 29 percent in overall cases.

The biggest increase was seen in children under age 5; for that group, researchers noted a 70 percent rise in type 1 diabetes cases.
"Why are we seeing this large increase in type 1 diabetes in very young children? Unfortunately, the answer is we don't know," said lead study author Terri Lipman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.