Teens who have diabetes may not know it

July 21, 2016 Providence Health Team

Researchers say more U.S. adolescents appear to have diabetes than previously thought, and almost a third may not know they have the condition.

In a survey of 2,600 young people ages 12 to 19 who had been tested for diabetes over a 10-year period, investigators found that 62 of them, or 0.8 percent, were diagnosed with the disease. But 29 percent of those 62 weren’t aware of the diagnosis. The researchers said unawareness was greatest among black and Hispanic participants.

An earlier study found diabetes diagnoses in 0.34 percent of participants ages 10 to 19.

A potentially deadly disease

“These findings may have important public health implications because diabetes in youth is associated with early onset of risk factors and complications,” wrote the researchers in a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar is above normal. It can lead to serious health complications including blindness, kidney failure, amputation of lower extremities and heart disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls it the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.

The agency said about 22 million Americans were living with a diagnosis of diabetes in 2014. About 1.5 of every 100 people up to age 44 had the diagnosis, according to the agency.

Testing for diabetes and prediabetes

The letter’s authors said the survey provided the first estimates of how many young people have diabetes based on a nationally representative sample of participants. To determine how many had diabetes, the researchers examined the results of tests for three biomarkers recommended by the American Diabetes Association.  

Those surveyed were participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is based on in-person interviews and examinations in mobile centers. The adolescents were surveyed from 2005 to 2014.

In addition to the 62 participants diagnosed with diabetes, another 512, or almost 20 percent, had prediabetes. This is a condition in which blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

Researchers cautioned that the estimates may be overstated because the ADA recommends repeating tests for those testing positive for diabetes, but the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey tested each participant only once.

Reducing the risk of diabetes

The JAMA research letter was published here. The CDC website discusses the latest news and statistics on diabetes. It also provides guidelines for preventing the disease.

Providence Medical Group has previously discussed ways teens can reduce their risk of diabetes.

They include:

  • Eat a healthy diet, especially low-fat proteins, fruits, vegetables and high-fiber carbohydrates, while limiting consumption of saturated fats.
  • Stay active, starting with at least 15 minutes a day of physical activity and building up to an hour.
  • Limit sedentary time, such as playing video games and watching television.

If you have concerns about diabetes, ask your health care provider whether you should be tested. You can find a Providence provider here.

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