More and More Children and Teens Are Living With Type 2 Diabetes – Once A Disease Only Adults Had to Worry About

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by Mario Brakin, M.D.

Diabetes is a condition that affects how the body uses glucose, the main type of sugar in the blood. To use glucose, the body needs the hormone insulin. But in people with diabetes, the body either can’t make insulin or the insulin doesn’t work in the body like it should. Excessive weight gain, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are all factors that put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes.

In the past, type 2 diabetes almost exclusively affected adults, but now, more children and teens are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which experts say is related to the rapidly increasing number of overweight kids. Today, the American Diabetes Association estimates that 2 million children have pre-diabetes, which is a collection of risk factors that often leads to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the body can’t use insulin to control and process glucose (sugars) in the blood the way it should. Because the disease develops gradually, it’s crucial that parents be alert to the risk factors and typical symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Identify the Warning Signs of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination (including bedwetting)
  • Blurred vision
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Slow-to-heal cuts and sores
  • Acanthosis nigricans (AN) – a darkening of the skin around the neck or under the arms

Taking Steps to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

The best way to help reduce your kids’ risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other associated health problems is to make healthy lifestyle changes. This includes:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Encouraging your kids to eat low-fat, nutrient-rich foods — like whole-grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and lean proteins — can help prevent excessive weight gain.
  • Limit sugary foods and beverages. Consuming lots of sugar-filled foods and beverages — like sodas, juices, and iced teas — also can lead to excessive weight gain.
  • Make physical activity a daily part of life. An hour or so of lively physical activity every day is a good goal.
  • Reduce screen time. The risk of obesity increases when your child watches more than two hours of TV per day.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and at Miller Children’s we want to ensure that children who are at risk for type 2 diabetes take preventative measures to keep them healthy. All of these lifestyle changes are good steps to take, even if your child has no symptoms of type 2 diabetes and can improve the health and happiness of the entire family.

Mario Brakin, M.D., medical director, Endocrine & Diabetes Outpatient Specialty Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach

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