Researchers announced an alarming average annual increase of 23.8 percent in newly diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes among children under the age of five in Switzerland.
While there was no change in the percentage of children ages five and older developing type 1 diabetes, the incidence rose steeply in the under-five age group. In 1991, the incidence was 2.4 per 100,000 children. In 1999, it jumped to 10.5 per 100,000, according to Swiss researchers, who published their findings in the March issue of Diabetologia.
Significant gender differences were noted, with 507 boys being diagnosed compared with 434 girls between 1991 and 1999. Boys outnumbered girls in both the youngest and oldest age groups, while there was no difference in numbers between newly diagnosed girls and boys in the five- to nine-year-old age group.
Researchers say the early age of diagnosis was the primary shocker in the survey. Month of birth did not make a difference, nor did it matter if the child lived in an urban or a rural area.
The dramatic jump in the number of cases among the youngest age group became even more significant when researchers looked at the Swiss Military registry from 1953 to 1976. During those years, there was a constant rate of type 1 diabetes among boys in the youngest age group, with an average of 3.6 cases per 100,000 children.
Researchers say they cannot explain the extraordinary jump in the number of cases among the youngest group during the 1990s when the rate had remained constant for the previous 40 years. There have been no impressive changes in eating or lifestyle factors. Researchers could only speculate that viral infections or a change in vaccination programs might trigger diabetes.