Type 2 diabetes, typically thought of as a disease seen in our parents and grandparents, has recently emerged as a disease in our children. By the end of the 20th century, the incidence of type 2 diabetes was rising rapidly among children and teenagers. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), 8 to 45 percent of new cases of pediatric diabetes may be type 2. As with adults, type 2 diabetes among children and teenagers is due to a combination of insulin resistance and decreased insulin production. According to Dr. Francine Kaufman, president of ADA, “Forty-five to 80 percent of children who have type 2 diabetes have a parent with type 2 diabetes, and 74-90 percent have at least one affected first- or second-degree relative.”
Reasons why we are seeing this new trend are related to lifestyle factors. Children and teens have low levels of activity and spend numerous hours playing video and computer games. School systems have fewer or no physical education classes due to a decrease in funding. With a decrease in activity and an increase in technology, weight gain among our children is at an epidemic high. In most families, both parents work outside of the home and there is an increase in single-parent homes, which leads to a decrease in the amount of time parents have to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals. Instead, parents are taking their children to eat at fast food restaurants to save time. When children are overweight, it leads to other health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which all are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Children and teens diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are typically between 10 and 19 years of age, overweight, have a strong family history of diabetes and have insulin resistance. It can be difficult to diagnose type 2 diabetes in children because children may not always have symptoms, or symptoms may be mild, therefore going undiagnosed.
Risk factors for childhood type 2 diabetes are family history, weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Symptoms can include frequent urination, dry mouth or extreme thirst, blurred vision, slow healing infections or wounds, and acanthosis nigricans (skin disorder characterized by dark, thick, velvety skin in body folds and creases indicating insulin resistance).
As parents, we need to encourage our children to decrease their portion sizes and increase their physical activity. Parents need to limit the amount of time their children spend playing video and computer games. If children are going to play video games, make sure it is one that includes physical activity such as the Wii. Other ways to encourage our children to be physically fit include playing team sports or setting aside time to go outside to play ball, jump on the trampoline, or simply run and play.
Type 2 diabetes can be controlled and even prevented in some cases. Our children are our future, and we should work together to improve their health so they can have the opportunity to live the long and healthy lives they deserve.
Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse, certified diabetes educator and program coordinator for the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center.