As if parents didn’t have enough to worry about—concerns about the numbers of children developing type 2 diabetes are increasing, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
This increase is caused in part because type 2 diabetes is partially a weight-based illness, and so many children are now considered overweight.
• In the U.S., one-fifth of children are overweight;
• In the past 20 years, the numbers of overweight children has increased by more than 50 percent;
• In these same 20 years, the number of children classified as “extremely overweight” has almost doubled.
Although children have fewer weight-related health problems than adults (such as heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke), they are at an increased risk of developing a serious disease—diabetes.
Diabetes has two types:
• Type I is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin. A person with type I diabetes must take insulin shots several times a day. This type of diabetes cannot be prevented or postponed, it can only be treated.
• Type 2, the most common type, is the result of the body’s inability to utilize the insulin it does produce, or the body’s inability to produce enough insulin. With proper nutrition and healthy activity, this type of diabetes may be prevented or postponed.
Symptoms of diabetes include: constant thirst, frequent need to urinate, unusual tiredness or hunger, unexplained weight loss, sores that take a long time to heal, dry itchy skin, less feeling or tingling in the feet, and blurry eyesight.
A person with undiagnosed diabetes may have any or all of these symptoms or a combination of them.
In recent years obesity and type 2 diabetes have been rapidly increasing in youth, especially among Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans.
With proper medical treatment, diabetes can be managed and controlled. However, it is not curable-a person diagnosed with diabetes lives with the condition for the rest of his or her life.
The best way to deal with type 2 diabetes in children is to prevent it from developing in the first place. Parents can help their children prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by helping them maintain a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle.
Children become overweight for a variety of reasons, including genetics, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns or a combination.
In rare cases, a medical problem, such as an endocrine disorder, may cause a child to become overweight.
Your physician can perform a careful physical exam and some blood tests, if necessary, to rule out this type of problem.
Diabetes prevention begins with a visit to the doctor.
A doctor is the best person to determine whether your child has a weight problem. Physicians will measure your child’s weight and height to determine if your child’s weight is within a healthy range.
A physician will also consider your child’s age and growth patterns to determine whether your child is overweight.
But diabetes prevention continues at home. The two most important things your child can do are to have a normal weight and increase his or her levels of physical activity.
Parents know encouraging children to eat healthier and be more active isn’t always easy. Think about these suggestions:
• Take things one at a time. Don’t expect a child to accept too many life changes all at once. Start small-maybe with smaller servings and short afternoon walks-and go from there.
• Keep healthier foods on hand, such as grapes, bananas and other fruits. Limit the amounts of cookies, donuts, cakes, chips, ice cream and other sugar- and/or fat-laden foods that come into the house.
• Get active. Get the entire family involved by taking evening walks together. For optimum benefit, these walks should be 30-45 minutes in length, three to five times a week.
• Sign your child up for activities he or she enjoys. Whether it’s swimming or running or playing team sports, favorite physical activities are healthier than sitting and watching television or playing video games.
• Set a goal and work toward it together. Develop a ‘workout’ plan and keep it up.
• Above all, keep it fun! The child needs to keep in mind that a lifestyle change doesn’t happen quickly. Make small, gradual changes and try to include meals and activities that are enjoyable for your child and your family.
So, encourage your entire family to increase physical activity and consume healthy choices of food, and you, as a parent, may have ‘one less thing to worry about!’
Rita M. Hodges is the Ellis County Extension Agent-Family & Consumer Sciences Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Contact Rita at 972-825-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.