The incidence of type 1 diabetes is increasing and this may double the burden of disease in our youngest by 2020. The recent increase in incidence is mostly happening in the very young and those with moderate genetic susceptibility. Many environmental factors have been implicated, but no major determinants have been clearly identified, and the mechanisms of involvement remain elusive. This review summarizes current research efforts directed at understanding the possible reasons for this increase, including the role of viruses, gut microbiota, early life feeding patterns, perinatal factors and childhood growth patterns. It also provides a road map for future research directions. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.