Obesity and type 2 diabetes are rising among young people

Obesity and type 2 diabetes are rising among young people
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As reported in the New York Times earlier this year, leaders of a province of Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation in a region beset with high rates of obesity and diabetes, planned to ban imported food at government functions and tourist establishments. They did so because imported food in Vanuatu is often junk food that contributes to obesity. That is one small step toward addressing a worldwide health issue.

Obesity has been rising globally for decades — to the point where there are now more people worldwide who are obese than underweight. With this trend has come an increase in diseases to which obesity contributes, including type 2 diabetes, which now afflicts 415 million adults worldwide.  

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Once largely restricted to adults, type 2 diabetes has increasingly been diagnosed in children, adolescents and young adults in many parts of the world. Drawing on our FAIR Health database of billions of private healthcare claims, we released a white paper this year on the scope of the problem of obesity and type 2 diabetes in young people in the United States.

 

Looking at claim lines (the individual procedures or services listed on an insurance claim), we found that from 2011 to 2015, claim lines with an obesity diagnosis increased in every age group. That included the pediatric population we were primarily studying (ages 0 to 22) and adults (23 and older), whom we studied for comparison 

We divided the pediatric population into the following age groups: ages 0-2, 3-5, 6-9, 10-13, 14-16, 17-18 and 19-22. In infants and toddlers (ages 0-2), the increase in claim lines with an obesity diagnosis was 94 percent; in middle schoolers (ages 10-13), 97 percent; in college age people (ages 19-22), 154 percent; and in adults, 191 percent.

During the same period, claim lines with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis more than doubled in the pediatric population, rising 109 percent overall. The numbers were especially high for adolescents and young adults. In the age groups ranging from 14 to 22 years, claim lines with type 2 diabetes diagnoses rose between 120 and125 percent.

Claim lines with several other obesity-related diagnoses also increased from 2011 to 2015. Claim lines for prediabetes increased 110 percent; for hypertension, 67 percent; and for obstructive sleep apnea, 161 percent.

Our findings differed by gender. In 2011-2015, in most pediatric age groups, claim lines with obesity diagnoses were more common for females than males. But, in most pediatric age groups, claim lines with type 2 diabetes diagnoses were more common for males than females. Claim lines with obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension diagnoses also were more common for males than females in most pediatric age groups.

Our study presents new evidence that obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as other obesity-related conditions, are rising among young people in the United States. In this respect, the United States shares a public health problem that is occurring globally. The potential consequences are serious and costly.  

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic illness whose complications include increased cardiovascular disease, end-stage renal disease, eye damage and limb amputations. Its increase among young people points to many decades of treatment for a larger population than previously known. As in Vanuatu, policy makers across the world must do what they can to address the pandemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially in young people.

Robin Gelburd, JD, is the president of FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit with the mission of bringing transparency to healthcare costs and insurance reimbursement.