The new research, published in the February issue of Diabetes Care, may lead to more pressure being placed on food manufacturers, already under fire for the rising incidence of childhood obesity.
"The increasing prevalence of childhood obesity may substantially account for the younger age at onset of type 1 diabetes observed in various populations," said researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
The study, which was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, involved 449 participants who were under 20 at the time of the diabetes diagnosis.
But the scientists caution that their findings are not all encompassing, noting that the connection to obesity was observed only in those patients in which the production of insulin by beta cells in the pancreas already had been severely compromised.
"These patients have compromised pancreatic beta cell function and can no longer compensate for the additional metabolic demands associated with higher body mass index," said Dr Ralph D'Agostino, professor of public health sciences-biostatistics at the medical school, and a co-author of the paper.
Insulin is used by the body in metabolizing carbohydrates and in regulating glucose levels, and diabetes results when there is insufficient insulin to meet the need.
Body mass index (BMI), which is calculated according to a person's weight and height, is one way of measuring obesity, with a BMI over 30 indicating the disease.
According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetes results from the body's failure to produce insulin, the hormone that 'unlocks' the cells of the body, allowing glucose to enter and fuel them. Type 2 diabetes results from insulin resistance - a condition in which the body fails to properly use insulin - combined with relative insulin deficiency.
The new study was part of the Search for Diabetes in Youth, which is trying to determine the prevalence and incidence of childhood diabetes and document how much childhood diabetes is type 1, how much is type 2.
Obesity has been linked to a multitude of health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease, something that is causing growing concern as increasing numbers of children are classed as obese around the world.
The American Heart Association recently released nutritional guidelines for children, underlining that arteriosclerosis begins at a young age, and that those who follow a poor diet and take too little exercise may already have a build-up of plaque in the arteries by adolescence.
Furthermore, type 2 Diabetes, which used to be known as adult onset diabetes, is now increasingly being diagnosed in kids, adding to the cardiovascular risk profile of children.
Children's obesity has gained significant attention in the health care and child welfare arenas over the past five years. In 2002, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cited that 16 percent of children aged 6-11 were overweight, with the same percentage holding true for 12-19 year olds.
Worldwide over 22 million children under five are severely overweight. Experts say junk food and low exercise levels, combined with the popularity of computer games and television, are behind the growing obesity rates.