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Are Children at an Increased Risk for Diabetes Due to COVID-19?

Published: 1/18/22
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By Devanshi Gupta

A new study from the CDC suggests that there is an increased risk of developing diabetes after a COVID-19 infection for children under the age of 18.

According to a new study from the CDC, researchers found that children who tested positive for COVID-19 are at a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes in the months after infection than children who did not get COVID.  

While having diabetes is known to be a risk factor for experiencing more severe symptoms and complications from COVID, this study is among the first to show a new link between COVID and risk of diabetes diagnosis in children who did not have diabetes prior to their COVID-19 infection. 

Other studies have also shown an increase in diabetes risk following COVID infection in adults. 

To understand how widespread diabetes is among children after COVID infection, the researchers used two databases of health insurance claims in children (those under 18) who had COVID and children who did not. They looked at data from March 2020 until June 2021. 

The researchers found an increase in diabetes incidence in both databases, although the relative rates were significantly different. One data set found that children who had COVID were 2.66 times more likely to develop diabetes 30 days after their infection than children who did not get COVID. The other found that they were 1.31 times more likely. 

The authors suggested that the two databases had different ways of classifying which children had COVID, which could have contributed to the different numbers. Despite this difference, the authors emphasized that even the lower estimated risk of 1.31 times more likely (or around a 30% greater risk), is a big increase in risk. 

When considering why COVID is increasing the risk of diabetes while other respiratory infections typically do not, the authors stated in the study that the links between COVID and diabetes are “likely complex and could differ by type 1 and type 2 diabetes”. 

In both cases, there could be a direct effect of the virus which may be attacking the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. In the case of type 2 diabetes, the treatment used in cases of hospitalization could be leading to temporary increases in blood glucose levels. Additionally, weight gain associated with lifestyle changes during the pandemic could be exacerbating existing diabetes risk factors such as excess weight and less physical activity.

For children who developed type 2 diabetes after infection, the authors stated that it is not clear whether these changes will resolve over time or if they will persist in the long term. These children were only followed for 4.5 months after infection, and other studies that observe these cases for a longer period of time are needed to determine whether the diabetes will be long-lasting. 

For all people, and especially those who may have risk factors for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, the results of the CDC’s study underscore the importance of vaccination and taking measures to limit the chances of contracting COVID. While the risk of diabetes was not associated with severity of COVID, vaccines significantly reduce the risk of catching COVID, which could reduce the risk of developing diabetes and other long-term complications.

About the authors

Devanshi Gupta joined the diaTribe Foundation in 2021 after graduating from Wellesley College with a degree in Neuroscience and Women's and Gender Studies. Gupta is a writer for diaTribe Learn.... Read the full bio »

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