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For years doctors have warned of a rising epidemic of diabetes among children. Yet there has been surprisingly little firm data on the extent of this disease among younger Americans.

Now a nationally representative study has confirmed that from 2001 to 2009 the incidence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes drastically increased among children and adolescents across racial groups.

The prevalence of Type 1 diabetes increased 21 percent among children up to age 19, the study found. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among those ages 10 to 19 rose 30 percent during the period.

Those are “big numbers,” said Dr. Robin S. Goland, a co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who has been in practice for about 25 years. “In my career, Type 1 diabetes was a rare disease in children, and Type 2 disease didn’t exist. And I’m not that old.”

The analysis, published Saturday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, includes data from more than 3 million children younger than 20 in five states — California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington — as well as from selected American Indian reservations.

The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health and is part of a continuing study, Search for Diabetes in Youth, examining the condition among children.

In Type 1 diabetes, a patient’s immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin, a hormone required to control blood sugar levels. Historically, children affected by the disease were more often white.

But the new report found the prevalence also has increased among black and Hispanic youths.

“I don’t understand the basis for an increase,” said Goland, who was not involved in the research. “There are a few possibilities, but we need to figure it out if it’s something in the environment or something in our genes.”