Kids and Diabetes: Is Your Child at Risk?

When discussing diabetes, most people don’t think about children. Though type 1 diabetes usually develops during childhood and is primarily caused by genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, while linked with several genetic factors, is associated with adulthood, obesity and poor eating habits over many years. However, today more and more children in the United States are developing type 2 diabetes.

For years obesity has been on the rise in the United States. As a country and a culture, we are addicted to oversized portions of fast food and processed foods with tons of empty calories and added sugars. And this epidemic doesn’t only affect adults.

According to statistics gathered by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), over the past four decades, childhood obesity rates in the United States have almost tripled and an estimated 13 million children and adolescents are considered obese (having a BMI in the 95th percentile or above).

TYPE 1 VS. TYPE 2

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Once those cells are destroyed, they cannot be re-grown or replaced, and patients have to take insulin for the rest of their lives. Though proper diet and exercise can help maintain health, diabetes is largely genetic and must be treated with insulin injections.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is caused by insulin insensitivity. While these patients may be genetically predisposed toward developing type 2 diabetes, it can usually be prevented by maintaining healthy body weight and eating a balanced diet. For those who develop type 2 diabetes, they may see major improvements in blood sugar levels after losing weight and changing their lifestyles, but they will most likely always have a tendency toward high and/or unstable blood sugar levels and should maintain a close relationship with their doctors and keep a close eye on their diets and exercise regimens.

A RISING RISK FOR U.S. KIDS

Type 2 diabetes is preventable and it should be particularly easy to prevent in kids. However, according to the NCSL, 30% of U.S. children exercise fewer than three times per week and 75% of U.S. teens don’t eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

With numbers like these, it’s not hard to see why more and more kids in the U.S. are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. So, is your child at risk? Take a moment to think about how often your child plays outside. Do you have your child enrolled in any sports or other activities that provide regular exercise? How often do you physically play with your children?

Kids follow our examples. If we sit on the couch every night eating sweets, our kids are going to learn those habits and mimic them. If, on the other hand, we are active and healthy, our children are more likely to be active and healthy as well. If you live in the United States, statistics show that your child is very likely at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, but you can combat that risk by promoting a healthy lifestyle.

By Dr. Ritu Goel