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Diabetes and its risk factors during childhood and adolescence

On the occasion of World Diabetes Day, the diabetes surveillance team at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) presents current results on diabetes in childhood and adolescence as well as in pregnancy.

Diabetes mellitus is a group metabolic diseases, which are characterized by elevated blood glucose levels. Several types of disease can be distinguished. Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, is predominant in childhood and adolescence. With increasing age, type 2 diabetes predominates, which is also called adult-onset diabetes and is the most common form of diabetes. A special type of diabetes is gestational diabetes, which occurs for the first time during pregnancy and usually disappears afterwards.

Type 1 diabetes in childhood and adolescence

In 2019, more than 30,000 children and adolescents were affected by type 1 diabetes in Germany (Prevalence type 1 diabetes). Each year, about 3,500 children and adolescents are newly diagnosed with diabetes (Incidence type 1 diabetes). Over the last few years, a slight increase in the incidence rate of type 1 diabetes has been observed. The analysis bases on the data from the nationwide diabetes patient documentation registry and regional diabetes registries.

New technologies are increasingly being used in the treatment of type 1 diabetes. For example, the proportion of children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes treated with an insulin pump has increased over time to more than 50% in 2019 (Insulin pump therapy). New methods are also being used to measure sugar levels. Here, more than two-thirds (70%) of children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes use a glucose sensor that automatically measures the sugar level in the subcutaneous fat tissue (Continous glucose monitoring).

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes in childhood and adolescence

Type 2 diabetes is very rare in childhood and adolescence. About 200 adolescents are newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year (Incidence type 2 diabetes), and a total of about 1,000 adolescents aged 11 to 17 are affected by type 2 diabetes (Prevalence type 2 diabetes).

Overweight and obesity, physical inactivity and smoking in childhood and adolescence increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes at later stage in life. Results from the nationwide "German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents" (KiGGS) conducted by the RKI provide information on these risk factors for the later development of type 2 diabetes.

About 15% of children and adolescents in Germany are overweight (Overweight and obesity). Three-quarters of children and adolescents do not reach the WHO-recommended goals for physical activity of at least 60 minutes per day (Physical inactivity). Additionally, one in five children drinks sugary soft drinks such as soda, cola or iced tea every day (Sugar-sweetened beverages). Lastly, 7% of children and adolescents aged 11 to 17 reported to smoke regularly (Smoking).

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes (GDM) is an important risk factor for the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes. More than 50,000 women are affected by gestational diabetes each year and the prevalence of GDM has further increased to 7.3% in 2019. With 9 out of 10, the vast majority of pregnant women participate in screening examinations for gestational diabetes and can be treated early if gestational diabetes is detected (Screening GDM). This is the result of an analysis of data from all in-hospital births in Germany.

Further information

  • For the results for diabetes in children and adolescents please click here.
  • For the results for diabetes in adults please click here.