The growing incidence of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in young people
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As the new year begins, many people make resolutions, often having to do with weight. In a country where 71 percent of adults age 20 years and over are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is no wonder that adults are resolving to eat more healthfully, exercise more and lose weight. But, as adults strive to adopt healthier habits, it is important for them not to forget their children. Children too have been increasing in weight. Indeed, as revealed in a new white paper from FAIR Health, Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes as Documented in Private Claims Data: Spotlight on This Growing Issue among the Nation’s Youth, over the years from 2011 to 2015 obesity became a more serious problem for the nation’s young people, as did type 2 diabetes, to which obesity contributes.

Type 2 diabetes was once so rare in children that it was often referred to as “adult-onset diabetes.” But, notably, it has now become all too common in young people. In the new white paper, we at FAIR Health, an independent, national, nonprofit organization dedicated to transparency in healthcare costs and health insurance information, consulted our database of over 21 billion privately billed healthcare claims to study trends and patterns in obesity and type 2 diabetes. We investigated the period from 2011 to 2015 in the pediatric population, which we defined as spanning the ages from 0 to 22 years.

Findings on type 2 diabetes and obesity

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We found that claim lines with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis more than doubled in the pediatric population during that period, increasing 109 percent. Claim lines with a diagnosis of obesity also increased across the pediatric population, ranging from a 45 percent rise among 3- to 5-year-olds to a jump of 154 percent among those aged 19 to 22 years.

Except in the case of the middle school age group (ages 10-13), claim lines with an obesity diagnosis occurred more often in females than in males; in that middle school age group, the diagnosis appeared in claims for both males and females at approximately the same rate. By the time of college age (ages 19-22), the gender distribution for claim lines with an obesity diagnosis was 72 percent female to 28 percent male, the same as in adults over 22. By contrast, claim lines with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis were more common for males than females in most pediatric age groups.

Other obesity-related conditions

Other conditions associated with obesity also increased in claim lines among young people. The conditions included obstructive sleep apnea and hypertension, both of which were more common in claim lines for males than females. Middle schoolers showed the greatest increase (218 percent) in the pediatric population in claims associated with obstructive sleep apnea; elementary school students (ages 6-9) presented the greatest increase (103 percent) in the population in claims associated with hypertension.

State-by-state patterns

We also compared the percent of claim lines for pediatric type 2 diabetes diagnoses to the percent of claim lines for all pediatric medical claims by state. Using that standard, pediatric type 2 diabetes was found to be most prevalent in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Utah and South Dakota. It was least prevalent in New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Hawaii and Rhode Island.

These new findings present an opportunity for parents, policy makers and the healthcare system to revisit what can be done to prevent and treat obesity in young people and, in so doing, perhaps prevent cases of type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related conditions. That would be a new year’s resolution worth making.

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. FAIR Health oversees the nation’s largest repository of private healthcare claims data, comprising over 22 billion billed medical and dental charges that reflect the claims experience of over 150 million privately insured Americans. Follow on twitter @FAIRHealth


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