COVID-19 May Increase Risk of Diabetes in Children, CDC Study Finds

covid-19 vaccine for kids 5-11 illo

Verywell Health / Michela Buttignol

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 may increase the risk of new diabetes in kids, according to a CDC study.
  • Warning signs of diabetes include excessive thirst, frequent urination, rapid weight loss, and fatigue.
  • Vaccinations, masking, and social distancing measures can help protect both adults and children from COVID-19 infection and complications.

Children who are infected with COVID-19 are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier research has shown that COVID-19 can worsen existing diabetes and that people with diabetes are at higher risk for severe COVID. But the new study shed light on how COVID-19 may induce diabetes in children who didn’t have a previous diagnosis.

Researchers evaluated two insurance claims datasets for diabetes incidence among people under 18 who had COVID-19 at least 30 days prior. In one dataset, diabetes risk was 166% higher in people who had COVID-19 than those who didn't, while another dataset showed a 31% increase.

The study didn't distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which manifest differently but were grouped together in the results.

According to the researchers, the results highlighted the need for people of all ages to practice COVID-19 precautions such as getting vaccinated when eligible.

COVID-19 May Impact Type 1 And Type 2 Diabetes Differently

Stephanie Redmond, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, co-founder and vice president of Diabetes Doctor, told Verywell that viral infections like COVID-19 can trigger autoimmune response where the body starts attacking insulin-producing cells.

A recent study showed that COVID-19 receptors can reduce insulin levels and kill pancreatic beta cells, which could induce type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease where the body stops producing insulin.

Viral infections can also induce or worsen type 2 diabetes through different pathways, Redmond said. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes characterized by high levels of blood sugar and insulin resistance.

“Illnesses in general, including COVID, can cause blood sugars to be higher,” Redmond said. “If you're sick, whether it's COVID, whether it's the flu, or a cold, your body releases more stress hormone, more cortisol. If you had diabetes, and your blood sugars are going up, it can be a warning sign that you're getting sick.”

Redmond said a COVID-19 infection may not necessarily cause type 2 diabetes, but family history and genetics may play a role.

"If you have a predisposition, if it's in your genetics, you're already a little insulin-resistant," she said. "Then you get COVID, it might be like the cherry on top to take you into that diagnosis, but you were probably headed there anyway.”

People who already have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes should be extra cautious about COVID-19, as they're more vulnerable to complications from the virus, Redmond added.

Symptoms of diabetes are similar in children and adults: extreme thirst, unexplained changes in hunger, noticeably increased urination, weight loss, and fatigue. These symptoms are a result of the brain responding to spikes in blood sugar levels and telling the body that it needs to dilute the sugar with liquid, Redmond explained.

What to Do if Your Child Has COVID-19 Induced Diabetes

Aleida M Saenz APRN, FNP-BC, CDCES, director of patient education at the Diabetes Research Institute, told Verywell in an email that she encourages parents to observe and track their child's behavior to look for these warning signs.

"For parents who have a child that has already developed symptoms of diabetes, the most important step to take immediately is seeking medical attention," Saenz said. "A physician can make a diagnosis so that a proper course of treatment can be implemented. Along with determining the best course of treatment, a pediatrician should be able to help provide additional guidance and resources to help navigate living with diabetes."

While type 2 diabetes can be reversible, type 1 diabetes is not. For a child with new or worsened type 2 diabetes, taking steps to address nutrition and lifestyle changes, and sometimes medications or supplemental insulin can help to manage the condition.

Based on the CDC study, it's unclear whether children who develop type 2 diabetes after COVID-19 can fully recover from the condition, Sharon Saydah, the CDC researcher who led the study, told the New York Times.

For children who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, they may be initially admitted to a hospital to receive fluids and insulin, Redmond said. After that, they will typically be discharged with various prescriptions, including insulin. This is something that they will continually have to manage and adjust to, as the condition will stay with them for life.

“It totally sucks, for lack of professional terms, because it's this life sentence of being on insulin and having to monitor your blood sugars all the time,” Redmond said. “You can live a long, great life with type 1 diabetes, but it's hard work."

What This Means For You

COVID-19 may increase risk of diabetes in children. Protect yourself and your children against COVID-19 complications by getting vaccinated and taking safety measures like social distancing and masking.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Barrett CE, Koyama AK, Alvarez P, et al. Risk for newly diagnosed diabetes >30 days after SARS-CoV-2 infection among persons aged <18 years — United States, March 1, 2020–June 28, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71:59–65. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7102e2

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Underlying medical conditions associated with higher risk for severe COVID-19: Information for healthcare providers.

  3. Wu C, Lidsky P, Xiao Y, et al. SARS-CoV-2 infects human pancreatic β cells and elicits β cell impairment. Cell Metab. 2021;33(8):1565-1576. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2021.05.013

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.