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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, and there are no signs that this trend is abating. The increase has been very rapid, particularly in the youngest children, under age 5 (Diamond Project Group 2006). 

I know what it's like to take care of a child under 5 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?

Type 1 Diabetes Incidence and Chemical Production, U.S.

Type 1 diabetes incidence has increased in conjunction with chemical production in the U.S. over the past decades. Incidence rates were low before World War 2 (the range is shown in the bars above 1920), when the widespread use of chemicals began. While correlation does not prove causation, these trends could be related.

You can click on the image to make it larger.

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 contaminants 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 contaminants 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, gestational diabetes, and other types of 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 hypotheses 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 contaminants 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. 

More Resources



Watch the diabetes and obesity rates rise worldwide since 1980, by country in this online graphic by the Washington Post.

Listen to scientists discuss the evidence linking environmental chemicals to diabetes and obesity in these online presentations (May 2011 and Dec. 2011), sponsored by the Collaborative on Health and Environment. 

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.”

Listserv

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:

To subscribe to this group, send an email to:diabetesandenvironment+subscribe@googlegroups.com
 

Photos

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

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