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Researchers warn that environmental factors must be behind rising rates of type 1 diabetes amongst children in Europe.

Type 1 diabetes is the leading form of diabetes amongst young people of European origin and results from the multi-centre EURODIAB study have shown that incidence is set to increase dramatically over the next ten years.

By analyzing past European data from 1989 – 2003, study researchers found that the overall increase of type 1 diabetes incidence was 3.9% each year. When the data was broken down into age groups, the largest increase could be seen in the 0-5yr age group, with an annual increase of 5.4%.

If these trends continue, researchers estimate that the number of children aged 15yrs and under living with type 1 diabetes will go from the 94,000 in 2005 to an estimated 160,000 new cases in 2020 – a 70% overall increase.

In Australia, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in young people is also increasing, with recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Figures suggesting there has been a 3% increase in incidence annually.

According to the study authors, the most worrying aspect of this data is that the changes over time cannot be caused by genetic factors and are most likely reflective of harmful environmental circumstances. The authors of this study suggest that modern lifestyle habits play a role, with contributory factors such as increased height and weight of both children and gestating mothers.

The authors conclude by warning that these increases will result in significantly higher social and health costs as these young people may develop diabetic complications at a younger age. They also emphasise the importance of research into the causes of type 1 diabetes as well as the development of ways to better predict and prevent disease onset.

Studies such as the JDRF-funded TEDDY (The Environmental Determinants of Type 1 Diabetes in the Young) Study are investigating environmental triggers of type 1 diabetes, and aim to provide conclusive results on what can pre-dispose – or protect – young people from developing type 1 diabetes.

The Lancet published online 28th May 2009

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