Type 1 diabetes (T1D) in children is on the rise in the Conejo Valley, according to a renowned Los Angeles endocrinologist.
“I’ve seen an 80-85 percent increase in this area over the last five years,” said Dr. Norman Lavin, who currently treats over 2,000 diabetic patients in the Los Angeles/Ventura County region.
Just why this is happening in this area is a mystery to Lavin, who includes among his credentials director of medical education, Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center; director of clinical education in endocrinology, UCLA Medical School; and international chair of pediatric endocrinology for the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinology.
“We really don’t know what the cause is,” Lavin said. “It could be genetic; it could be environmental. Lavin, who gives regular lectures at UCLA, has proposed putting together a student task force to investigate this local phenomena.”We want to see if a river runs through it, so to speak” he said. However, the program has yet to get off the ground. “We don’t even know where to start,” he said. According to Lavin, some studies link the overall increase in the U.S. to inadequate breastfeeding or reduced exposure to pathogens in early life.
Sharon Sisso, an Agoura Hills resident, said she was “stunned” when her child was recently diagnosed with T1D. “Without having a family history on either side…, it was surprising to find out that our daughter, 12 years old at the time of diagnosis, was a type 1 diabetic.”
SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth, a multi-center study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and supported by the NIH, recently found that the prevalence of the illness in people under age 20 in this country rose by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.
“This alarming growth in T1D, if unabated, means the prevalence of the disease would double for every future generation, resulting in massive new health care spending in federal entitlement programs and the private health care market,” said Jeffrey Brewer, president and CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund, said in a recent JDRF press release.
Jean Lawrence is the principal investigator for the SEARCH program. According to Lawrence, information on children diagnosed with diabetes is collected from five SEARCH centers located in California (Kaiser Permanente Southern California), Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington as well as from some American Indian reservations in Arizona and New Mexico.
Programs like SEARCH do not focus on areas as small as the Conejo Valley, she said. “Unfortunately, I can’t answer to cases in [the Conejo Valley] specifically,” she said. However, nationwide, “…for every 2,000 children, three may have type 1 diabetes. This includes children diagnosed in that year plus children diagnosed in previous years.”
Westlake resident Gila Brook, a special ed teacher at Lindero Canyon Middle School in Agoura Hills, has a teenage son with T1D. Actively involved with JDRF, she said she is surprised by Lavin’s findings.
“I know cases are rising everywhere, but I wonder if the higher than average reports are simply do to the fact that there are very few doctors that specialize in children’s endocrinology in our area,” she said. “I don’t know exactly how many doctors there are, but maybe Dr. Lavin is just getting the bulk of local patients.”
Whatever the cause, researchers continue to investigate. “Increases in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in the US and other countries may be due to differences in genetic and environmental risk factors that are associated with [T1D] risk or the age of diagnosis,” said Lawrence. “There is no definitive answer to this question and many researchers are continuing to work on the answer to this question.”
For further information about possible causes of T1D, pick up Diabetes Rising: How a Rare Disease Became a Modern Pandemic, and What to Do About It, written by freelance medical journalist Dan Hurley, himself a sufferer.
Editor’s Note: As the mother of a recently diagnosed type 1 diabetic child, this issue is of particular interest to me, particularly since no one else, on either side of our family, has had the disease prior to this. I’d like to hear from parents out there whose children have the disease and are as perplexed as I am or perhaps have some thoughts on the subject. Please leave your remarks in the comment section below.