Type 2 diabetes is a health condition that affects 30.3 million Americans a year, with an estimated 7.2 million cases going undiagnosed. While this itself is cause for concern, recent research has shown that an increasing number of children are now also being diagnosed with the disease. What was now a rarity is becoming an increasing norm, with a diagnosis of children with type 2 diabetes seeing a rapid rise. What is causing this rising epidemic, and can it be prevented? This article will discuss the rise of type 2 diabetes in children.
What is Type 2 diabetes?Type 2 diabetes is a chronic medical condition, whereby glucose levels build up in your bloodstream. The hormone insulin plays an important role. It allows the glucose in our blood to enter our cells and provide fuel for our bodies. However, when you have type 2 diabetes, your cells are not able to respond to insulin as effectively and in some cases cannot produce insulin. Your body still breaks down carbohydrates and converts it into glucose, but because your insulin can’t work correctly, blood glucose levels continue to rise. As a result, more insulin is released, which can result in your pancreas being overworked and producing less insulin. A consequence of this is high blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia), which can have a dangerous effect on your health if the proper steps are not taken.
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A rising epidemicType 2 diabetes in children was previously incredibly rare. In fact, it was such an irregular occurrence; it once called adult-onset diabetes. However, as it has become increasingly common among children, it is now simply known as type 2 diabetes. Until 2001, type 2 diabetes accounted for fewer than 3 percent of all newly diagnosed diabetes cases in adolescents. However, studies from 2005 and 2007 show that type 2 now comprises 45 percent of those diabetes cases. Some cite a drastic change in lifestyle, especially concerning diet and exercise, to this increase. Fast food, technology, and inactivity dominate the lives of many children today. Disease researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicted that one in three children born in the United States in 2000 will likely develop type 2 diabetes sometime in their lifetime unless they get more exercise and improve their diets.
ObesityWhile not every case of Type 2 diabetes is as a result of being overweight and obese, it is the single most significant risk factor. Recent statistics have shown that childhood obesity has risen by an alarming rate, with many blaming poor diets and a lack of exercise as the cause. Authors of a study from 2017 found that children and adults below the age of 25 who fell into the body mass index ranges for obesity were four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those in the normal ranges.
InactivityThe time that used to be spent playing and running outdoors is now spent looking at a screen. Of course, this is not generalization for every child, but research shows that 68% of children under age 3 use screen media, such as television, DVDs and video games, daily. Further data, released by a non-profit organization Common Sense Media, found that 42 percent of young children now have their very own tablet device — up from 7 percent four years ago and less than 1 percent in 2011.
GeneticsGenetics may also have a part to play, with research showing that the incidence of childhood diabetes is much more common if one parent or both parents have the condition. According to the American Diabetes Association, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is:
- 1 in 7 if one of your parents was diagnosed before the age of 50.
- 1 in 13 if one of your parents was diagnosed after the age of 50.
- 1 in 2, or 50 percent, if both your parents have diabetes.
EthnicityCertain ethnic groups have been shown to have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This included those of Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Latino, or African descent. The reasons for this remain unclear, though research suggests that factors such as diet and lifestyle could contribute to the increased risk.
SymptomsSymptoms of type 2 diabetes aren’t always easy to spot. In most cases, the disease develops gradually, making the symptoms hard to detect. Here are some symptoms to watch out for.
- Extreme thirst – One of the most common symptoms of type 2 diabetes is increased thirst. This is also known as polydipsia.
- Increased urination– Frequent urination is also known as polyuria. It can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable symptom of diabetes, and if you find that your child is passing large volumes of urine- more than 3 liters a day, you may want to get them tested for type 2 diabetes.
- Increased hunger– Excessive hunger, also known as Polyphagia, is one of the main signs of diabetes. When diabetes is not controlled, blood glucose levels remain abnormally high, and glucose from the blood cannot enter the cells.
- Unexplained weight loss – Unexplained weight loss is a sign of diabetes, especially if your child is eating more, yet still losing weight. Though it is usually more prevalent in cases of type 1 diabetes, it can also occur with type 2.
- Blurred vision – High blood glucose can cause the lens to swell, which can result in temporary blurring of eyesight.
- Fatigue– If your child seems tired or fatigued easily, it could be a sign. High blood sugar levels affect the body’s ability to get blood into cells to produce energy.
- Headaches– Headaches happen due to changes in blood sugar levels, as your blood sugar levels go up and down.
- Wounds that heal slowly– High blood sugar levels affect your body’s immune system, consequently reducing your child’s ability to heal.
How to reduce your child’s risk
Maintain a healthy weightBeing overweight is one of the biggest risk factors of type 2 diabetes, resulting in insulin resistance. Therefore, paying attention to your child’s weight, especially weight around the midsection, could help to lower their risk. Studies have shown that this type of fat promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, ultimately increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study of more than 1,000 people with prediabetes found that for every kilogram (2.2 lbs) of weight participants lost, their risk of diabetes reduced by 16%, up to a maximum reduction of 96%. However, it is important for your child to focus on being healthy, as opposed to losing weight. Weight is a sensitive subject, especially for children, and discussing it could affect their self- confidence, resulting in negative consequences. Rather than discussing weight, make healthy changes to their diet, and encourage more physical activity as a family. Courses on diabetes education are also available, offering advice on diet plans and recipes guidelines.
Balanced dietA balanced and healthy diet is essential for all avenues of health, especially when it comes to type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes runs in families. In part, this tendency is due to children learning bad habits — eating a poor diet, not exercising — from their parents. As a parent, it is essential that you are teaching your family, as well as yourself, how to eat a balanced diet. If you order takeout daily, look into cooking quick, easy and healthy meals. Yes, convenience food may seem like the easier option, but it is generally processed and high in sugar and additives. If you are packing your child a school lunch, swap crisps and candy bars for a healthy alternative such as peppers and hummus and a piece of fruit. Teaching your child to enjoy eating healthily and practicing good diabetes management, from a young age, will have a positive impact on their health.
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