Today is the American Diabetes Association’s Alert Day. It’s their official call for Americans to receive an assessment to see if they’re at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes. While the initiative is mostly directed toward adults, it’s an important message for parents to consider for their children as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, type 2 diabetes appears to be a growing problem among U.S. children and adolescents, but the exact number is difficult to quantify. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 8-46% of all new cases of diabetes referred to pediatric centers.
While we don’t know the exact number of children that have type 2 diabetes, we have a good sense for why it might be on the rise. The disease is very strongly associated with obesity, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
From my observation as a Certified Diabetes Educator, children and adolescents may not notice changes in how they feel before they are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, therefore it can be hard for families to detect it on their own. A blood test is needed to diagnosis it.
So if the disease is often silent in children, how do you know what to look for? Parents should talk to their child’s pediatrician about their Body Mass Index (BMI). At or above the 85th percentile is considered overweight and at or above the 95th percentile is considered obese.
If your child is in the overweight or obese range and has any of the following two risk factors, he or she should be tested for type 2 diabetes:
- Family history of type 2 diabetes in first-degree or second-degree relative
- The CDC states that type 2 diabetes is more common in non-Caucasians
- Signs of insulin resistance or conditions associated with insulin resistance such as darkening of the skin (neck, armpit, groin), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and/or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Type 2 diabetes is one of those conditions that responds well to healthy lifestyle changes. So whether your child has received a diagnosis or you simply want to make some healthy changes for your family, here are a few things that we recommend families do to help prevent or treat type 2 diabetes:
- Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Make it fun for kids by encouraging activities they enjoy such as playing outside, bike riding, dancing to music, jump rope, tag, family walks, active video games, etc. Teens may enjoy more structured activities such as exercise classes or videos, listening to music while exercising on equipment, or walking with a friend at a local park or mall.
- Encourage healthy eating habits. Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Eat foods that contain whole grains, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy.
- Eliminate sugar-laden drinks such as soda, fruit punch, lemonade, and even fruit juice. These beverages cause blood sugar to spike and demand a large amount of insulin. Water and low-fat milk (or alternative) are the best choices.
If you suspect your child has diabetes, or has two of the risk factors, please bring it up with your child’s pediatrician. He or she may recommend a referral to a pediatric dietitian. For more information about preventing type 2 diabetes in children, please visit diabetes.org.