Now, yet more evidence that children’s health is in dire need of attention: A new study released today shows that almost a quarter of teens have diabetes or prediabetes.

Almost a quarter.

That’s up from 9 percent a decade ago, according to a study in the June 2012 issue of Pediatrics, published online today.

The findings come from a report that looked more broadly at the risk factors teens have for cardiovascular disease. “Prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors Among U.S. Adolescents, 1999-2008” examined data from nearly 3,400 adolescents age 12 to 19 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The authors, affiliated with The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, set out to examine why American teens have become more susceptible to cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death among U.S. adults.

They found little significant change in the last decade for teen rates of hypertension or abnormal cholesterol. There was also little change in the percentage of overweight and obese teens, but at 34 percent that figure remains troubling.

It was the spike in diabetes and prediabetes that stood out.

The analysis shows a steady uptick in the percentages with the conditions since 1999. But, because researchers did not focus exclusively on diabetes, they did not break out the different types of severity of the conditions they found. (One author I spoke with said the hope is that this report will trigger further examination of the trend.)

Diabetes is categorized into two types. Type 1 develops when the body cannot make insulin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose. It is a more rare form of diabetes and not yet preventable.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes, according to the CDC [pdf]. It often develops over time, beginning with insulin resistance that may be related to weight and inactivity. Eventually, the body can become unable to produce insulin at all.

Prediabetes is diagnosed when glucose levels are high, but not high enough to be considered diabetic. These patients are at a greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. If they can decrease their weight and increase their physical activity, they might avoid it.

The authors suggest wide-scale diabetes screenings for children 10 years old and older who are overweight or obese or have other risk factors, such as family history.

They also suggest embracing large- and small-scale healthy lifestyle initiatives.

“I think this should be a cause for concern for everyone — for parents, for pediatricians, for everyone,” said one of the authors, CDC researcher Ashleigh May. “These numbers are very high. We have a great opportunity to intervene to make changes early.

“I think parents have the opportunity to encourage their children to engage in healthy lifestyles,” she said. “On the broader community level, we can promote healthy environments that make making healthy choices easier for kids.”

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