Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a condition that affects the body's ability to produce a hormone called insulin, to use it properly, or both. Diabetes results in high levels of blood sugar (glucose). High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) can cause a number of serious complications in children, adolescents, and adults.

Glucose is a simple sugar that is made by the body from the foods we eat. The cells of the body use glucose for energy and growth. During digestion, glucose and other nutrients are released into the bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to rise. High blood sugar levels then prompt special cells in the pancreas (called beta cells) to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin helps glucose enter the body's cells. Glucose cannot get into cells without insulin.

In some children with diabetes, the pancreas cannot make insulin. In others, not enough insulin is produced to allow glucose into the cells of the body. High blood sugar levels are dangerous, so it is important for children who have diabetes to carefully monitor and manage their blood sugar levels daily.

Incidence and Prevalence of Diabetes

In the United States, approximately 177,000 children and adolescents have some form of diabetes, with types 1 and 2 being by far the most common. One in 400–600 children has type 1 diabetes and more than 13,000 children are diagnosed with this type each year.

Incidence of type 1 diabetes in children increases with age. Each year in the United States, 7 in 100,000 children age 4 and younger are diagnosed; 15 in 100,000 children between the ages of 5 and 9 are diagnosed; and 22 in 100,000 children between the ages of 10 and 14 are diagnosed.

Prior to 1994, fewer than 5 percent of children diagnosed with diabetes had type 2. Since then, this number has risen to 30 - 50 percent.

Diabetes affects all ethnic groups, but rates of diabetes are higher in Native American, African American, Latino, and Pacific Islander populations.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2015