NCDs get younger in India: Diabetes incidence doubles in children and adolescents less than 18 years

To combat this, Apollo launches India’s first pediatric health assessment focused on chronic and lifestyle diseases in children

National, 28 November 2023: Apollo, the world’s largest integrated healthcare provider, has observed a significant increase in incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in children across India. Apollo’s data shows that the rate of incidence of NCDs has more than doubled among children between 5 – 17 years of age over the past decade, an age group where there should ‘technically and historically’ not be a growing impact of lifestyle diseases. Analysing nearly 10,000 screenings across walk-ins and campus outreach, Apollo found:

  • Early onset of Diabetes: Prediabetes was observed in 17% of those screened, projecting a potentially early onset of diabetes as they step into adulthood.
    • Incidence of diabetes has also doubled in these ages over the past 5 years, indicated by the data observed at campus checks by Apollo SHINE Foundation – from 1.37% in 2018 to 3.68% in 2023 across a nearly similar sample size, as indicated by HbA1C levels.
  • Rise of childhood obesity: Childhood obesity has seen an exponential rise and forms a major risk factor for the onset of other NCDs. Nearly 19% of those screened were either overweight or obese, 3X more than what was observed a few years ago.
  • Hypertension, the new entrant: Hypertension is also among the NCDs that is now being diagnosed in as young as 7-year-olds. Apollo data indicates its detection in roughly 6% of those screened. A majority of this is concentrated in those aged between 14 – 17 years of age, a major outcome of rising academic pressure alongside peer and social anxieties.

Commenting on these findings, Dr Indira Jayakumar, Medical Director, Apollo SHINE Foundation said,

“In my experience working with children on school and college campuses across multiple cities, I am observing a significant shift in the nature of illnesses and diseases affecting them today. There is enough evidence through Apollo as well as global research to validate that many non-communicable diseases begin in childhood. We’re witnessing a disturbing increase in everything from pre-diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome – which can be associated with fatty liver disease and irregular lipid levels. During our screening, we have encountered an over threefold increase in obesity incidence among children compared to five years ago. There has also a significant increase in the rates of depression and anxiety diagnoses among teenagers over the past five years due to academic pressure, which is just as concerning, and they need help. What’s more worrying is that children commonly miss out on holistic preventive health care since they tend to seek medical attention only when ill, despite showing a high incidence of NCDs. The need of the hour is for us to add enough systems in place that ensure timely and early detection of these conditions to ensure the long-term well-being of children.”

To combat the concerning rise in the prevalence of NCDs among children and adolescents, Apollo has launched an industry-first Pediatric ProHealth program, which curates tests that conduct a holistic assessment of the child, based on their family history and age group. In addition to routine tests that most pediatric check-ups conduct like development, growth, dermatological, dental etc., the ProHealth test further evaluates their risk of NCDs along with an in-depth mental health assessment.

Dr Sathya Sriram, CEO – Preventive Health, Apollo, said, “Pediatric screenings often prioritize developmental disorders and infectious diseases, leaving lifestyle factors and NCDs relatively overlooked. Addressing lifestyle diseases in children requires a significant awareness amongst parents and schools to ensure early intervention and creating supportive environments for healthy living. We have adapted Apollo’s personalised health check program – ProHealth – to focus on the health milestones of children and adolescents, along with our pediatricians. Our Pediatric ProHealth screening does a comprehensive assessment of every child’s physical, mental, and emotional health and offers guidance on hearing, vision, allergy, nutrition, fitness, sleep, vaccinations, as well as learning. Timely preventive screenings can help identify risk factors because of family history, genetics, or environmental factors and ensure early intervention to combat and reverse the impact of NCDs.”

A few measures to ensure children stay one step ahead of NCDs:

  • Body Mass Index (BMI): Annual measurement to monitor for overweight or obesity.
  • Blood Pressure: Yearly checks to detect hypertension early.
  • Blood Glucose: Annual screening for diabetes or prediabetes, especially in adolescents with risk factors.
  • Blood Lipid Profile: Assess cholesterol levels, typically starting from age 9-11, then between 17- 21 years.
  • Liver Function Tests: Monitoring for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children with obesity, as indicated.
  • Growth Monitoring: Annual checks of height and weight during pediatric visits.
  • Developmental Assessments: Regular evaluations during pediatric check-ups.
  • Dental Check-ups: Every 6 months to a year for oral health.
  • Vision and Hearing Tests: Vision and hearing should be screened once in 2 years after the age of 3 and annually if screening turned positive.
  • Mental Health Screening: Annual assessments for stress, depression, or anxiety.
  • Iron and Vitamin Levels: Checks for nutritional deficiencies based on diet and risk factors.
  • Chest X-ray: As recommended by a pediatrician, typically for respiratory symptoms.
  • Ultrasound of the Abdomen: Used to assess abdominal pain or abnormalities, as indicated.

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