Did the COVID pandemic impact diabetes rates in children?


A new study says yes.

Did the COVID pandemic impact diabetes rates in children?: © Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com

Did the COVID pandemic impact diabetes rates in children?: © Africa Studio - stock.adobe.com

Article highlights

  • COVID-19 pandemic impact on health factors, including diabetes rates in children
  • Increase in new diagnoses of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes during the pandemic
  • Significant rise in diabetes cases, particularly in certain racial and ethnic minority groups, notably Black and Hispanic youths
  • Factors contributing to the increase: SARS-CoV-2 damage to pancreatic cells, sedentary behavior, limited healthy food choices during lockdowns, and reduced access to medical care
  • Urgent need for continued research to understand behavioral and physiological factors contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes diagnoses, with emphasis on addressing health disparities in the healthcare system

A lot of health factors were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new report reveals that diabetes rates in children increased during this time, too.

The study, published in Diabetes and Endocrinology, revealed there was a slight increase in new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes and a much larger increase in type 2 diabetes during the pandemic. The most significant increases, the study adds, were in children of certain racial and ethnic minority groups.1

The research team compared rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children 19 and younger between 2016 and 2021, with a particular focus on diagnosis rates before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other studies had previously reported higher rates of diabetes after the pandemic, but this is the first to break down that increase across different sociodemographic groups, according to the report.

Researchers reveal that previous studies had reported that type 1 diabetes cases rose by an estimated 48% after the COVID pandemic, and type 2 diabetes cases increased by 231%. Some of the highest increases, the new study adds, were in the last two quarters of 2020, and centered on increases in type 2 diabetes. Another common theme researchers noted was increases by race and ethnicity, with the highest spikes of new type 2 diabetes seen in Black and Hispanic youths.

There are several possible explanations for the pandemic increase in diabetes cases overall, according to the study.

First, SARS-CoV-2 has been found to damage pancreatic cells, so infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 may have contributed to some of these cases. An increase in sedentary behavior and limited healthy food choices during lockdowns were also likely contributors, the report notes.

Finally, the lack of regular access to medical care was probably also a factor in the increase, as there was little space for screenings of at-risk individuals during the pandemic.

The study did little to address what specifically contributed to the racial and ethnic variations of diabetes diagnoses in this cohort, particularly why Black and Hispanic youths saw the highest rates of pandemic-era type 2 diabetes increases.

Numerous reports have shed light on the problem of health disparities in the United States health care system by race, ethnicity, and other sociodemographics,2 but there seems to have been minimal improvement in these shortfalls despite efforts by clinicians, according to the American Medical Association.3

Providers need to be aware of these disparities, and the new study urges continued research into what behavioral and physiological issues are contributing to the problem, especially in terms of a rise in diabetes cases.

For more on diabetes, click here.


  1. Mefford MT, Wei R, Lustigova E, Martin JP, Reynolds K. Incidence of Diabetes Among Youth Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(9):e2334953. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.34953
  2. Cheng YJ, Kanaya AM, Araneta MRG, et al. Prevalence of Diabetes by Race and Ethnicity in the United States, 2011-2016. JAMA. 2019;322(24):2389-2398. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.19365
  3. Reducing disparities in healthcare. AMA-assn.org. Accessed October 10, 2023. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/reducing-disparities-health-care
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