Is Your Child at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

Why this problem is on the rise in kids

Is Your Child at Risk for Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes was formerly found only in adults. But now doctors find the condition in a rapidly growing number of children in the United States. Poor diet and inactivity are at least partly to blame. Is your child at risk?

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According to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the number of young people (ages 10-19) diagnosed with the condition increased by nearly 5 percent each year between 2000 and 2012.

This uptick worries experts. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to end up with complications like heart attack, stroke, nerve damage, blindness and kidney damage. You’re more likely to see complications when your diabetes is not well controlled.

What are the risk factors for children?

These factors increase risk of developing type 2 diabetes in children and teens:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Obesity or being overweight

Ethnicity may also play a role in risk. The NEJM study found the rate of increase among Caucasian children was relatively low, but higher among African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Native Americans had the highest rate of increase at nearly 9 percent a year.

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What symptoms should you watch for?

Most pediatricians will talk about weight loss or other treatment if your child’s body mass index is 85 percent or higher at a doctor’s visit. Another potential clue that your child may have diabetes is acanthosis nigricans, or a dark discoloration of the skin in the body’s folds and creases.

Unfortunately, most symptoms of type 2 diabetes often don’t show up until the condition is relatively advanced. Visit your pediatrician if you see any of these signs in your child:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Increased hunger
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Slow healing cuts and sores
  • Yeast infections
  • Vision changes
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Nausea or vomiting

How can you help your child avoid diabetes?

There isn’t a lot you can do about your children’s genes. But you can help him or her lead a healthier lifestyle.

A few simple steps can go a long way toward getting your child to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Try these tips to encourage healthier eating in your family:

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  • Talk about good food choices
  • Keep healthy food and snacks in the house
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Reduce consumption of processed carbohydrates, such as cookies and candy
  • Eat fewer processed and fast foods
  • Replace sugary drinks with water

As for exercise, a good goal to target for children and teens is 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Limit children’s screen time to two hours daily — you might even let them earn screen time by exercising.

Make activity fun. You can get creative — it doesn’t require a track or field. Even interactive video games can help get kids moving.

You can also make exercise a family affair. Take them for a walk around a museum or a park, or get the whole family out for a bike ride.

It’s important to lead by example when encouraging a healthy lifestyle. If the whole family participates, it will help reinforce good habits for the long haul.

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Sue Cotey and Andrea Harris, RNs

Sue Cotey, RN, CDE, and Andrea Harris, RN, CDE, are Diabetes Educators with the Lennon Diabetes Center at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Health Center. Sue is the Program Coordinator.
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