Why the disease is so hard to control in children and teenagers is not known. The researchers said that rapid growth and the intense hormonal changes at puberty might play a part.
The study followed 699 children ages 10 to 17 at medical centers around the country for about four years. It found that the usual oral medicine for Type 2 diabetes stopped working in about half of the patients within a few years, and they had to add daily shots of insulin to control their blood sugar. Researchers said they were shocked by how poorly the oral drugs performed because they work much better in adults.
The results of the study and an editorial were published online on Sunday by The New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings could signal trouble ahead because poorly controlled diabetes significantly increases the risk of heart disease, eye problems, nerve damage, amputations and kidney failure. The longer a person has the disease, the greater the risk. So in theory, people who develop diabetes as children may suffer its complications much earlier in life than previous generations who became diabetic as adults.
"I fear that these children are going to become sick earlier in their lives than we've ever seen before," Dr. Nathan said.
Researchers urge aggressive, individualized treatment plans to keep the disease under control in children.
Image: Child at doctor's office, via Shutterstock.