Updated 01 February 2017

Obese toddler becomes youngest ever person to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetic

An obese three-year-old American toddler has become the youngest person to ever be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a condition that is becoming more common in children as a result of rapidly increasing obesity levels.

A three-year-old American girl has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a condition linked to obesity making her one of the youngest people ever detected with the disease.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as "adult-onset" because it is most common among the middle-aged and elderly, but in the last two decades increasing numbers of children have succumbed, due to poor diets and lack of exercise.

Read: Diabetes in children increasing 

Details of the case are being presented on Thursday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Stockholm by Michael Yafi, director of paediatric endocrinology at the University of Texas, Houston.

Since there is no global registry, it is not possible to say definitively that the girl is youngest patient ever but Yafi said his own research had not revealed any other cases in this age group.

"I'm sure there probably are others but they are either undiagnosed or not reported yet," he told Reuters.

Read: Type 2 diabetes in children: an emerging epidemic

Diabetes is a growing problem worldwide with the number of diabetics estimated to be 387 million in 2014 and forecast to soar to 592 million by 2035, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

"This is a global problem," Yafi said. "Type 2 diabetes is no longer limited to adults. Now when I see any obese child I screen the patient for type 2 diabetes."

For the toddler who presented at his Houston clinic, the main symptoms were excessive urination and thirst, although her past medical history was unremarkable. However, both her weight of 35 kilograms and her body mass index were in the top five percent of all children her age.

Read: Diabetes harm young brain

Tests quickly showed she had high blood sugar levels but she tested negative for antibodies that would have signalled type 1 diabetes, the auto-immune version of the disease that is usually diagnosed in childhood in which the body does not produce insulin.

She was put on a diet and given a liquid version of the drug metformin, since she had trouble swallowing tablets, and after six months she had lost weight and was able to come off treatment.

Yafi said the case showed that type 2 diabetes could be reversed in children by early diagnosis, appropriate therapy and changes in lifestyle.

IDF estimates that diabetes costs healthcare systems worldwide more than $600 billion a year and sales of diabetes treatments are big business for drugmakers such as Novo Nordisk , Sanofi and Eli Lilly.

Read more: 

Metformin causes moderate weight loss in children

Type 2 diabetes progresses faster in kids

Obesity - are our children doomed?


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Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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