Kids Get Type 2, Too

If you think of children and diabetes, what comes to mind? Probably children who have Type 1 diabetes. And while children are more likely to get Type 1 diabetes than Type 2 diabetes, the prevalence of Type 2 in kids is steadily increasing. According to data from the SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth study from 2009, more than 168,000 children under the age of 20 have Type 1 diabetes, and more than 19,000 have Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes increased in 10- to 19-year-olds by over 30% between 2001 and 2009, primarily in African-American, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic white youth (not so much in Native Americans or Pacific Islanders, however). And girls are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than boys.


What’s happening?
The explanation for the rising rates of Type 2 in children is pretty simple: weight. Or, to be more specific, overweight. Being overweight doubles a child’s risk of getting diabetes. One out of three children in the U.S. are considered to be overweight or obese. Why? We can thank, in part, technology for this. Children spend more time on their iPads, laptops, and desktops than ever before. Gone are the days of playing after school. Instead, kids spend much of their free time watching TV, playing video games, or using Facebook. In fact, it’s estimated that older children spend an average each day of 4.5 hours watching TV, 1.5 hours using the computer, and over 1 hour playing video games.

Another reason for kids being overweight is their food choices. Fast foods, unhealthy snacks, and a lack of structured meals are partly to blame.

Know the risk
If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews, it’s important for you and your family to be aware of the diabetes risk factors, especially if the children are overweight. If you need a reminder, they include the following:

• Family history of diabetes

• Not getting enough physical activity

• Being of certain ethnic groups: Hispanic, African-American, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander

• Impaired glucose tolerance or high fasting insulin levels

• Acanthosis nigricans (dark, velvety skin around the neck, under the arms, or in the groin area that may look like dirt)

If you were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes before the age of 50, your child has about a 1 in 7 chance of getting Type 2 diabetes, as well. If you were diagnosed after age 50, the risk is 1 in 13.

As with adults, many children with Type 2 diabetes don’t have symptoms. Diabetes may be diagnosed during a routine medical visit. But some children get symptoms, which include:

• Increased thirst

• Increased urination

• Unexplained weight loss

• Extreme hunger

• Blurred vision

• Fatigue

• Cuts that are slow to heal

• Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands

Make sure your child sees a doctor if he is experiencing any of these symptoms.

Focus on prevention
If you have diabetes, it doesn’t mean that your child will develop it. And there are many overweight children who don’t get diabetes. However, it’s important to take steps to help keep your child healthy and active. Here are some tips that can help:

• Limit how much time your child spends watching TV, on the iPad or computer, or playing video games.

• Encourage your child to get outside and play or to take up a sport.

• Join the local YMCA and get your child involved in activities there. It helps to go as a family.

• Go bike riding or walking together. Sign up to do a diabetes walk or other walk or bike ride for charity in your community.

• Limit or avoid keeping sodas and fruit juices in the house. Also, limit sports drinks. These beverages are high in calories and carbohydrate.

• Encourage healthier snack foods like fruit, vegetables, yogurt, crackers, baked tortilla chips, or light popcorn.

• Involve your child in meal preparation. Kids are often more receptive to eating healthful food when they’ve contributed in some way to the meal.

• Reward your child for being active and eating well with nonfood rewards, such as going to a movie or having a sleepover with friends.

Make sure to talk with your child about his weight in a nonjudgmental way. Focus on positive steps and small changes that the whole family can take, especially around food and activity. Try to avoid dwelling on your child’s weight; rather, center conversations and actions on overall health. If your child does develop diabetes, look for support for your child and your family. The steps I listed above are still important to follow, but it’s helpful to get advice from doctors, dietitians, and diabetes educators. Support groups and online diabetes forums can be helpful for children with diabetes and their families, as well.

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  • tmana

    There are two issues that make it difficult to pull today’s children away from the screen and onto the playing field: the amount of homework they get (including online research and class projects), and the dearth of safe-to-play neighborhoods. While more children today are involved in team sports and structured sports activities than in generations past, the ability of kids to “just go out and play” after school has been hampered by both parents having to work full-time (limiting adult-overwatched neighborhood play), lack of sidewalks and safe places to play outdoors near home, and fear of allowing children to play without direct adult supervision (child safety issues — predators, etc. — and governmental issues — Child Protective Services now consider it negligent to not have direct adult supervision of any minor at all times). The amount of information and technology with which children must become familiar at increasingly younger ages means that even kindergarteners are given homework that lasts from the time they get home from school until bedtime. This leaves little, if any, time for either structured or unstructured play.

    In addition to time demands limiting physical activity, two-income households often mean no time to cook (increasing the likelihood of fast-food dinners), and limited time in which to eat while still being able to get homework done. I would also add that the combination of Title IX and cuts in school elective programs (such as Home Economics) has left us with a generation of parents who DON’T KNOW HOW TO COOK. Again, favoring the increase in fast-food and ready-to-eat meals, with their emphasis on white carbs, unhealthy fats, and excess dietary sodium, and a dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Kathy

    I agree with “tmana”. I have a six year old and a 14 year old, and both of them have an incredible amount of homework every day after school. Last year, my youngest was in kindergarten, and we were amazed at the amount of homework that he was given at such a young age. This year, in first grade, the amount of homework has doubled. I wholeheartedly understand the need for homework, but it’s ridiculous when it takes up the time from when a child comes home to the time they go to bed. The limited time for anything other than homework makes it hard for children to have any down time, let alone to be able to get out and play. Add to that the short amount of time at school for recess and lunch, and you have a recipe for easily gaining weight and an increased risk for diabetes and other health problems. Children need to have more time to be active and to play outside. Gobbling their food during a short 15 minute lunch break, definitely doesn’t help matters. There is a place and reasonable amount of time for learning and homework, however, it does not need to take up 95% of children’s time. There needs to be more of an emphasis on time for physical activity, quality time spent with family, and just plain letting a kid be a kid.