More than 30 million Americans have diabetes. There are two kinds of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes, which used to be known as “juvenile diabetes,” and Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called “adult-onset diabetes.” The names have changed because Type 2 diabetes, which used to be found almost only among older adults, is now an issue for teens and children as well.
Type 2 diabetes in people under the age of 20 has increased significantly already; between 2001 and 2009 the rate rose by 21%. New research suggests that it could quadruple within our lifetimes if the current pattern of increase continues.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body doesn’t use insulin well. Type 1 diabetes, when the body fails to make insulin, is also on the rise.
The overall increase in diabetes is “alarming,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. The increase in Type 2 diabetes among kids is particularly troubling. Older adults live with diabetes for a few decades. Kids who develop diabetes have many decades during which they may face the life-threatening complications of the disease. Heart disease, neuropathy, loss of kidney function, and blindness are just some of the health problems that can come with diabetes.
Some people are more likely than others to develop diabetes. People with a family history of Type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Kids of Asian, Pacific Islander, Latino, or African descent are more likely than kids of European descent to develop Type 2 diabetes. Children of mothers who had high blood sugar during pregnancy are more likely to develop diabetes.
These factors are not under anyone’s personal control.
However, there are also lifestyle factors involved. Three things are associated with Type 2 diabetes in kids:
- Obesity. The rise of childhood obesity mirrors the rise of Type 2 diabetes in kids. Now, one third of American kids are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is being seen in kids as young as 10 years old.
- A sedentary lifestyle. Kids spend more time gazing at screens and less time running around outside. In fact, the average American child now spends 7 hours a day in front of screens. Only one third of American kids get the recommended hour of physical activity every day.
- Poor food choices. Kids now eat about 350 more calories each day than they did in the 1970s. Perhaps more importantly, they eat different kinds of food now. Fast food, sodas, and candy are a big part of our diets now, with some kids eating as many as 10 snacks a day. Non-nutritious snacks make up as much as 27% of the average American child’s food intake, from age two up.
The increase in Type 2 diabetes among young Americans is a public health problem. The solutions are up to parents and kids. It’s not always easy to make healthier choices for your family, but it is the best way to reverse the trend.
Here are some things you can do for your family:
- Serve water instead of sodas. Kids can have milk at meals, but otherwise should drink water.
- Try to keep a regular schedule of home-cooked meals and limit snacks.
- Make fruits and vegetables the centerpiece of your meals.
- Choose chicken, fish, and lean meat instead of processed meals and fast food.
- Include active fun in your family time. Hiking, biking, swimming, walks, chores, and active games are good ways to increase movement.
Talk with your family about taking small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. If you have questions about diabetes and your kids, speak to your pediatrician.