A new study looking at type 1 diabetes in children has found a sharp increase in the number of cases reported, and health care professionals are scrambling to understand why.

The new research, published in the journal Diabetes Care, updated a  registry started in 1985 of Philadelphia children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. In 1985, cases of type 1 diabetes were seen at a rate of 13.4 for every 100,000 children in Philadelphia. By 2005, the rate was 17.2 cases per 100,000, representing an increase of 29 percent in overall cases.   

The biggest increase was seen in children under age 5; for that group, researchers noted a 70 percent rise in type 1 diabetes cases. Breaking the numbers down by race, Hispanic children had the most cases of diabetes across all ages while black children under age 4 saw the biggest increase in cases as the numbers rose by 200 percent from 1985-2005. Caucasian children under age 4 had the fastest recent increase in cases from the period 2000-2004 where incidence of type 1 diabetes rose by 48 percent.

According to a recent report on Reuters, a similar trend has been seen in children from Chicago to Colorado to Finland. But researchers can't seem to figure out why.

“Why are we seeing this large increase in type 1 diabetes in very young children? Unfortunately, the answer is, we don’t know,” said lead author Terri Lipman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

One of the two main types of diabetes, type 1 diabetes was once called juvenile onset diabetes as it is typically diagnosed before the age of 20. Type 1 diabetes occurs when a person's pancreas does not produce any or enough insulin for the body to function properly. Unlike some cases of type 2 diabetes, type 1 cannot be controlled with diet and exercise alone and patients must inject insulin several times every day.

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