A female physician comforts a child wearing a face mask.Share on Pinterest
Drazen Zigic/Getty Images
  • A CDC report found that kids with a SARS-CoV-2 infection are up to 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.
  • But experts had issues with how the analysis came together.
  • Still, some pediatricians say the findings are worth looking into further.

Many pediatricians and public health experts are criticizing a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that suggests COVID-19 may increase children’s risk of developing diabetes.

The report, published on Jan. 7, found that kids with a SARS-CoV-2 infection are up to 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

In reaction to the report, several public health experts have highlighted the study’s limitations: The analysis did not account for childhood obesity, other underlying conditions, medications, race or ethnicity, and it pooled all types of diabetes together.

Still, some pediatricians say the inconclusive findings are worth looking into further.

Pediatric hospitals are seeing more children present with new onset diabetes after recently or currently having COVID-19, and some kids with diabetes who acquired the coronavirus are experiencing severe complications that require hospitalization.

In addition, other viral infections have been linked to the development of diabetes. Though what that means for COVID-19 will need to be studied in the months and years ahead.

“For me, the report highlights the need for prospective studies and high quality, longitudinal research on the effects of COVID-19 on children and the development of diabetes,” says Dr. Jenise Wong, a pediatric endocrinologist with University of California San Francisco.

Wong says that cannot be answered right now, and it is too early to say that children who tested positive for COVID-19 are at risk of diabetes.

Dr. Sarah D. Corathers, an associate professor in the division of endocrinology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, says the CDC study is an observation report of health claims data, not an explanation of causation.

According to Wong, the report did not account for other health conditions, medications that can increase blood sugar levels, race or ethnicity, obesity, and other social determinants of health contributing to diabetes. These factors might influence children’s risk of acquiring the coronavirus and diabetes.

Other viral illnesses, through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers, have been linked to new onset type 1 diabetes.

“In general, it’s still unclear if viral infections ’cause’ diabetes in children, but it’s thought that they might ‘trigger’ the process of type 1 diabetes in those who might already be susceptible,” Wong said.

Viral infections could potentially trigger the health condition by damaging the cells that produce insulin.

Researchers will need to examine all factors — including environmental triggers such as viral infections, genetics, and the immune system — that can contribute to the development of diabetes.

In the meantime, Corathers advises parents to be aware of new onset diabetes symptoms in children — increased thirst and urination and unintentional weight loss.

According to Corathers, pediatric hospitals globally have recently seen more children with current or recent coronavirus infections present with type 1 diabetes.

A recent report from Romania noted a 16.9 percent increase in type 1 diabetes diagnoses from 2019 to 2020.

Wong says pediatric hospitals are also seeing increased diagnoses of type 2 diabetes in children.

This is “likely related to change in behaviors, increased weight gain, and other stressors that have occurred during the pandemic,” Wong said, noting that the report does not distinguish this from COVID-19.

Wong says many viral illnesses, particularly those that cause fever, can lead to changes in blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes.

If the infection interferes with the insulin needs in children with diabetes, they may develop diabetes ketoacidosis, which would require hospitalization.

According to Wong, this is a common adverse reaction in children with type 1 diabetes who develop COVID-19.

The long-term effects of COVID-19 on kids with diabetes, however, are unclear.

“We advise our families to monitor blood sugar levels closely with any illness, and some may need adjustment of their insulin doses during this time,” Wong said.

The CDC released a report this week that suggests children diagnosed with COVID-19 are up to 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. Public health experts have criticized the report for failing to adjust to other potential contributing factors, such as obesity, other medical conditions, and race and ethnicity. Though experts say the report’s findings are inconclusive and do not establish causation, many pediatricians say the link between COVID-19 and new onset diabetes in children is worth looking into further.