Alex has had type 1 diabetes since age 1. Alarmingly, the incidence of type 1 diabetes is increasing fastest in children under 5 years of age. Why?

Our children are at risk

Each year, an ever increasing number of children are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Among children under age 15, the risk of developing type 1 diabetes has been increasing since the 1950s around the world. The increase has been very rapid, particularly in the youngest children, under age 5 (Diamond Project Group 2006). The most recent U.S. data shows that the number of children with type 1 diabetes increased by 21% between 2001 and 2009 (Dabelea et al. 2014). This rise is dwarfed by the rise in China; traditionally a low- incidence country, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in Shanghai's children increased by 14.2% per year between 1997 and 2011 (Zhao et al. 2014).

I know what it's like to take care of a child with type 1 diabetes: it's scary. No child should have to go through the constant parade of needles, or have to deal with high and low blood sugars that might appear at any time. Meanwhile I could use a full night's sleep, without wondering if my child was going to wake up in the morning. Between 2005 and 2020, the number of European children under 5 who have type 1 diabetes is expected to double (Patterson et al. 2009).
Like type 1 diabetes in children, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in adults is also increasing rapidly (Geiss et al. 2006). Not only that, but type 2 diabetes incidence is increasing in children as well as adolescents. And, more and more children are showing signs of both type 1 and 2 diabetes (Pozzilli et al. 2007). The appearance of these diseases early in life is likely to have serious ramifications on health later in life.

And then there are the economic costs. It is estimated that type 1 diabetes costs the U.S. $14.4 billion in medical costs and lost income, each year (Tao et al. 2010). In 2002, U.S. spending on diabetes (type 1 and type 2) was estimated to be $132 billion. Rising health care expenditures are a serious problem, and a significant portion of health care spending is incurred by people with diabetes (Hogan et al. 2003).

But why the rising rates?

The increasing incidence in type 2 diabetes is generally attributed to increasing weight gain, a poor diet, and lack of exercise, but is that really the whole story? There is growing scientific evidence that environmental chemicals can also contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes. Do chemicals contribute to the development of the autoimmune disease type 1 diabetes as well? This website is my attempt to examine the scientific evidence surrounding our exposure to chemicals and the development of diabetes. I focus on type 1, since my young son and I both have type 1, but also include information on type 2 and gestational diabetes as well.

It is clear that some environmental, not solely genetic, factors play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. For instance, in sets of identical twins in which one twin has type 1 diabetes, the other twin does not necessarily develop the disease (Hyttinen et al. 2003). Also, people who move from a country where type 1 is rare to a country where it is more common have an increased incidence of the disease, implying that genetics alone does not tell the whole story (Feltbower et al. 2002). The incidence page has more information on type 1 diabetes incidence trends and patterns around the world.
Scientists have proposed a number of hypotheses to explain the rising rates of type 1, summarized on the  why is diabetes increasing? page. A number of environmental factors may contribute to the development of type 1 diabetes. Many of these factors (including vitamin D deficiency, a leaky gut, viruses, etc.) are discussed on the other environmental factors pages. Environmental chemicals are seldom mentioned in conjunction with type 1 diabetes, but there is increasing scientific evidence that they may also contribute to the development of this disease. This evidence is presented on the pages focusing on environmental chemicals (e.g., air pollutants, persistent organic pollutants, etc.). Clicking on the arrows on the list on the sidebar will show all the pages and subpages in these sections.

National Toxicology Program report

The National Toxicology Program held a workshop of experts to evaluate the scientific evidence linking diabetes to environmental chemicals. For the free full text of the report, see the Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Report (Thayer et al. 2012). From the report:
“Overall, the existing literature was judged to provide plausibility, varying from suggestive to strong, that exposure to environmental chemicals may contribute to the epidemic of diabetes and/or obesity.” 

“Research on environmental chemical exposures and type 1 diabetes was very limited. This lack of research was considered a critical data gap.”


For information on new studies, updates, conferences, and other events related to various environmental factors and the development of diabetes, focusing on the potential contribution of environmental chemicals to the development of diabetes:

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All of the people in the photos on this site have diabetes, or study diabetes or obesity. Some names have been changed.


This webpage relies solely on published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The RSS feed of new articles on diabetes and chemicals below is provided courtesy of Health & Environment. Many more articles are available and categorized by topic on the References page.

Just Published: Diabetes and Chemicals

Read the full Lancet Risk factors for type 1 diabetes series: The Lancet: Risk factors for type 1 diabetes