More children in Tarrant County are being diagnosed with diabetes. Why?

dfwnewsa | February 12, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

More children in Tarrant County are being diagnosed with diabetes. Why?

A growing number of children in Tarrant County are being diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to Children’s Health 2023 Beyond ABC Report. (Courtesy photo | Cook Children’s Health Care System)
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As a mother, Gloria Moncrief is always worried about the health of her children. 

When her daughter, Monty, began to drink a lot of water and constantly ask for more, Moncrief knew something was off. 

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“(Monty) was going through a couple of water bottles in the middle of the night for a few nights in a row. To me, that was strange,” she said. 

Moncrief scheduled an appointment with her daughter’s pediatrician, Dr. Mark Jones, and told him about her concerns. Dr. Jones ordered blood and urine tests for Monty. 

The lab results came in within minutes. Concerned, Dr. Jones advised Moncrief to take Monty to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth immediately. 

In January 2023, Monty, 11, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The results were scary and shocking, but Moncrief knew the best thing to do was seek medical attention as soon as possible to keep her daughter healthy. 

“It’s very overwhelming, but we’re very blessed and lucky that Dr. Jones immediately did those tests before she got really sick,” said Moncrief.  

Now, Monty has to wear an insulin pump and a glucose monitor on both her arms to check her blood sugar levels — and she’s not the only one. 

A growing number of children in Tarrant County are being diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to Children Health’s 2023 Beyond ABC Report. 

In Tarrant County, 2,369 children were diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes in 2022, a 45% increase from the 1,633 diagnoses in 2020. Over the past five years, the number of Tarrant County children with diabetes has grown by 143%.

Diabetes prevalence among Tarrant County children (under 18) in the past five years:

2018: 973 

2019: 1,323

2020: 1,633 

2021: 2,268

2022: 2,369

(Source | Children’s Health)

What is causing the increase of diabetes in children? The exact reason remains unknown, but several factors could be contributing to the increase, said Dr. Soumya Adhikari, pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Health in Dallas.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how a person’s body processes sugar into energy. There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune reaction that stops a person’s body from making insulin. This type of diabetes can develop at any age but is more likely to develop in children, teens and young adults. Type 1 affects more white individuals than other racial or ethnic groups and is typically diagnosed at ages 4 or 5 or ages 10 to 11, said Adhikari. 

With Type 2 diabetes, a person’s body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. This type of diabetes tends to develop over years. Although Type 2 occurs most commonly in adults, an increasing amount of children and teens are developing it. 

People with diabetes can experience blurry vision, frequent thirst, frequent urination, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, sores that heal slowly and unintended weight loss. 

Nationwide, the prevalence of Type 1 diabetes among those 19 years old and younger increased from 1.48 diagnoses for every 1,000 children to 2.15 from 2001 to 2017, according to a 2021 report from JAMA Network.

In the same time frame, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in those ages 10 to 19 increased from 0.34 per 1,000 children to 0.67.

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What is causing diabetes prevalence in children?

The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes remains unknown. The increase in adolescent diagnoses could be linked to genetics and environmental factors. There is often a family history of Type 1, but the majority of diagnoses occur in people who don’t have family members with the disease, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. 

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“The first thought when you hear diabetes is, ‘You haven’t been healthy.’ And that’s not true. Type 1 has nothing to do with how healthy you have been or haven’t been. You can’t control it,” said Moncrief. 

The prevalence of Type 2 diagnoses could be linked to the increase in childhood obesity. In Texas, over 21.5% of children ages 10 to 17 were overweight or obese, which is higher than the national average, according to State of Childhood Obesity. 

Type 2 diabetes also disproportionately affects more North Texas children living below the poverty line. These children, who tend to be predominantly Black or Hispanic, have a more difficult time receiving proper health care and healthy foods and nutrition, said Adhikari.

“These children experience higher prevalence of socioeconomic disparities and bigger challenges,” he said. “The reality is that high calorie, cheap, accessible foods that sometimes contribute to these risks are marketed to our children.” 

Adhikari said the change in children’s routines during the COVID-19 pandemic could be causing an increase in diagnoses for Type 2. He believes it’s important to consider how much physical activity children received when they were continuing their schooling at home. 

Evidence also suggests that children infected with COVID-19 may be at an increased risk for developing Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but there is inadequate research to solidify the conclusion. 

“These findings that there is an increase in the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes after COVID are worthy of further study,” Adhikari previously said in a Children’s Health statement. “Further research is needed to understand how much of this risk was based on a COVID-19 infection and how much risk can be attributed to other factors.”

Although no cure exists, diabetes in children can be managed through medications, healthy eating and exercise.  

“Families should evaluate their medical risks, connect with dietitians and come up with an individualized strategy that incorporates healthy food and physical activity decisions at home,” said Adhikari. “The number of treatments that are available to both children and adults with Type 2 diabetes has also almost exponentially grown in the last two or three years.” 

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Resources for children with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes:

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Northern Texas and Oklahoma chapter (Type 1 diabetes), 214-373-9808

Cook Children’s Endocrinology Dietitians (Type 1 and Type 2), 682-885-7960

Cook Children’s Diabetes Program (Type 1 and Type 2), 682-885-7960

Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Ready to Learn food program, 817-857-7125

As for Monty, now 12, she’s been able to adjust to living with Type 1 diabetes and is able to “function like a normal little (child)” with the technology available, said Moncrief. But several challenges still exist. 

Moncrief and her husband have to be careful to monitor Monty’s carbohydrate intake to ensure her blood glucose levels don’t go too high or too low, she said. 

“When you’ve never counted carbs, that’s a really challenging aspect of it,” Moncrief said. “There’s a lot of guesses and estimates, but the (insulin) pump helps a lot.” 

Still, Moncrief remains hopeful that there will be breakthroughs in Type 1 diabetes research to find a cure and develop newer technologies for children like her daughter. 

“Embracing the technology is really life changing. … The more you learn, the easier it becomes to manage,” Moncrief said. “We just hope that these really smart doctors and researchers are going to be able to figure all this out very quickly. The sooner the better.”

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or @davidmreports on X, formerly known as Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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