November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. Learn why Type 2 diabetes is becoming prevalent in kids.
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise among children, teens, and adults, thanks to a North American lifestyle that features a diet of sugar and refined carbohydrates, and little or no exercise. If not checked, Type 2 diabetes can lead to a host of physical problems, including heart disease and kidney damage. The good news:Type 2 diabetes is preventable.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disorder of blood sugar regulation. Blood sugar or glucose is the preferred fuel for most of the cells in the body. It is extracted from dietary sugars and starches. Foods containing carbohydrates are the biggest source of these sugars.
The pancreas is the organ responsible for maintaining appropriate blood sugar levels once it has been digested from food. It does this by producing a number of regulating hormones – chief of which is insulin. If blood sugar levels rise too high, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood to lower it.
Long term diabetes affects children in the same way as it affects adults. Unchecked, it can lead to circulatory problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and poor circulation to legs and feet. They can develop problems with vision, nerve pain and damage to the kidneys.
Two types of diabetes
There are two primary types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. This article focuses on Type 2 diabetes for three reasons: roughly 90 per cent of those with diabetes have Type 2; Type 2 is on the rise among children; and Type 2 is highly preventable. For more on Type 1, see the sidebar below.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called “Adult Onset Diabetes” because the majority of people with this type of diabetes often developed it later in life – age 40 on up. However, it is becoming more and more prevalent in children and teens. In Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas functions normally, but the cells become increasingly resistant to the effect of insulin, so the pancreas must produce more and more to keep blood sugar levels level. Eventually, the insulin-producing cells become exhausted and insulin injections are required.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with a diet high in sweets and refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise and obesity.
Sweets are abundant in a North American diet. Sugar is not only found in obvious treats such as cakes, cookies, chocolate bars, and pop, but is also added to most processed foods to enhance flavour. There are hidden sugars in breakfast cereals, pasta sauce, salad dressing, condiments, frozen foods, and more. Generally, anything on a food label that ends in “ose” , such as glucose, fructose, maltose, sucrose, indicates added sugar. Fast foods also contain high amounts of sugar.
Symptoms & prevention
The symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are subtle. Children will often complain of being tired, and will experience an increase in thirst and appetite. They are generally overweight and may or may not have some weight loss as the disease progresses.
Here are ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes in kids:
√ Avoid processed and fast foods. If you do use processed foods, determine the sugar content before purchasing and limit their use to a small amount once per day.
√ Limit sweets in your child’s diet. Make them a special treat once in a while rather than daily. Put fresh fruit and veggie pieces as snacks in their lunch boxes.
√ Choose natural, unsweetened whole grain cereals like oatmeal for breakfast and add small amounts of natural sweetener yourself – like honey, molasses or maple syrup. Natural sugars are less concentrated than refined sugars and contain minerals and immune boosters.
√ Make sure your kids have adequate amounts of protein in their diet such as eggs, fish, cheese and meat. Protein helps to balance blood sugar levels.
√ Make sure your child gets regular exercise during school, after school and on weekends. Exercise helps to balance blood sugar levels, improves circulation, energy and mood, and promotes weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes is for the most part entirely preventable through diet and regular exercise. The rising levels of this type of diabetes in children and teens signal a need for parents to pay more attention to these important lifestyle issues. If you suspect your child may be developing diabetes have his or her blood sugar levels checked as soon as possible.
About Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes used to be referred to as “Juvenile Onset Diabetes” because it often presented in childhood. It is caused by antibodies attacking the pancreas and destroying the cells that produce insulin.
Since the pancreas becomes unable to produce insulin at all, children with this type of diabetes will have more severe symptoms and will need to receive insulin injections daily to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is not preventable. To find out more about Type 1, go to www.diabetes.ca.
This article appeared in the February/March 2011 issue of LocalParent.