Finland’s Type 1 Incidence Still Highest in the World—And Growing. Researchers Explore Possible Causes

| Sep 1, 1999

The incidence of new type 1 cases in American children age 14 and younger is approximately 15 per 100,000 children. In Finland, however, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children age 14 and younger is around 45 per 100,000 people, making it the highest in the world.

In 1953, the incidence of type 1 diabetes in Finland was 12 per 100,000 people. By the 1980s, the incidence had increased to 36, and in 1996 it reached 45. According to the June issue of Diabetologia, researchers at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki are saying that the incidence could be as high as 55 in the year 2020.

Researcher J. Tuomilehto of the National Public Health Institute in Finland reports that the increase in new cases of type 1 diabetes was greater in children ages 1 to 4 than in children ages 5 to 14 between 1987 and 1996. Some controversial research has linked type 1 diabetes to childhood vaccinations. Tuomilehto mentions that the new measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, introduced in Finland in the early 1980s, could be another factor, but needs to be explored scientifically.

Breast Feeding vs. Cows' Milk

Cows' milk has also been targeted as a possible cause of type 1 diabetes. In a study published in the August 1995 issue of Diabetes Care, doctors discovered that children with newly diagnosed diabetes had high levels of bovine serum albumin (BSA) antibodies. BSA is a protein found in cows' milk. According to the report, "Diabetes risk declines with longer duration of exclusive breast feeding." The report shows that patients with diabetes had elevated anti-BSA levels in 74.4 percent of the cases, compared with 5.5 percent of the nondiabetic control children. The report was the third study demonstrating the clear association between childhood onset of diabetes and elevated anti-BSA antibodies.

According to Beth Beller, RD, CDE, "Many pediatricians now recommend not starting cows' milk until a child is 1 year of age, especially when there is a family history of diabetes.

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