Chronic illness is at epidemic levels in the United States as well as other wealthy nations. Autoimmune diseases, though tending to receive less attention than headline-grabbing afflictions such as cancer and heart disease, have experienced some of the most rapid increases. Comprising more than 80 different diseases, autoimmune conditions arise when the immune system attacks the body’s own organs, tissues and cells.
Type 1 diabetes—also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) or juvenile diabetes— is one of the most common and rapidly increasing autoimmune diseases in children. The U.S. has more children with type 1 diabetes than any other country in the world, with a prevalence in children and adolescents that grew by 21% from 2001 to 2009. The U.S. also has the highest number of new cases annually, well ahead of India (with a population four times bigger). From 2001 to 2015, new cases of type 1 diabetes in the U.S. increased by roughly 2% to 4% annually in those age 19 or younger (depending on the region), especially among 10-14 year-olds. Meanwhile, the rate of new cases in adults fell. A study of type 1 diabetes in Colorado spanning the mid-1990s to 2010 reported an even more alarming rate of increase for new cases—5.7% annually—and particularly high rates in the 5-9 year age group. Europe has experienced similar rates of increase but with the most rapid increase reported in the 0-5 age group.