Type 2 diabetes on the rise among children: how the pandemic may have played a part

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — In recent data published by UW Health Kids, Type 2 diabetes among children has increased by 200 percent in the past four years in the state of Wisconsin. Experts say the pandemic may have played a role in the high number of cases.

During the pandemic, students were expected to complete physical education classes on their own time. Director of Nursing Services at the School District of Onalaska Amanda DeNault says students were given activities and worksheets to complete.

“Unless you did them live, on zoom together, they were supposed to complete them on their own and turn in their minutes,” DeNault said.

Lunch and snacks were no exception during pandemic structured learning.

“Without the structure of school and school provided meals at the same time and recess at the same time, it probably was way more difficult for many students,” DeNault said.

Experts say the pandemic may have contributed to a rise in numbers of kids with diabetes.

“We saw an escalation of cases of nuanced type 2 diabetes in kids,” Elizabeth Mann, a pediatric endocrinologist at UW Health, said.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin. Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, urinating frequently, losing weight, and an increased appetite.

“In other words, the body can still make a lot of insulin, but actually needs to make a whole lot of insulin to do the same work than if the person did not have Type 2 diabetes,” Mann said.

Although genetics plays a large role in Type 2 diabetes, sudden environmental changes may play a part in the increased number of cases.

Environmental changes such as a “change in dietary patterns, also the effect of chronic stress and isolation,” Mann said.

But diabetes can be treated. Nutrition therapy, exercise therapy, insulin, and other medications can help.

“It’s really a combination of those four pillars that we use to treat pediatric type 2 diabetes,” Mann said.

As schools retrun to in learning, access to healthy meals, physical education, and structure can benefit kids.

“I think in a lot of aspects, having just PE class back in session and just being able to participate together,” DeNault said.

Common practices like exercise and eating a balanced diet can help prevent Type 2 Diabetes, but UW Health Kids says a lot of information about the increase in cases remains unknown.

If your child is showing symptoms of Type 2 Diabetes, UW Health Kids says to contact your healthcare provider.