Type 2 Diabetes in Children

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The increase in the number of children with type 2 diabetes has been a hot topic in the field of nutrition in the last decade.  My personal interest in this topic stems from having a large number of family members who have died or are currently suffering from the disease.  I had an aunt who was diagnosed with the disease and died after having several amputations due to diabetic complications.  Several years later, my grandfather died after having suffered kidney failure and having three amputations due to diabetic complications.  The disease has impacted my life because I’ve watched so many people in my family suffer from it.  I have since dedicated my future years in this career to help other people with type 2 diabetes alleviate the symptoms and to treat/eliminate the disease. 

I do believe that this is a topic that needs much focus. Too often in our country, our resolve is to medicate to alleviate symptoms.  I believe that the best remedies for young people suffering from the diseases are through nutrition education of the parents and children, nutrition intervention, and commitment to physical fitness. 

Children with type 2 diabetes are most commonly diagnosed during the pubescent years.  They typically have the following things in common – they are overweight or obese, they have a family history of type 2 diabetes, and they are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. Children may have dark patches on certain parts of the body (acanthosis nigricans).  The cheeks and back of the neck are the most easily observed (American Diabetes Association, 2000).

Children who have been diagnosed with diabetes should initially receive treatment in the form of nutrition education/therapy and increased physical activity.  Children and their parents should see a nutritionist or dietician who can help them learn the foods that will be healthy, and to help create better eating habits.  The nutritionist should also emphasize the importance of getting an adequate amount of exercise every day (American Diabetes Association, 2000).  Things such as TV watching, playing video games, and other sedentary activities should be limited and/or replaced by more active activities such as team sports, family bike rides, and dancing using an active video gaming system such as a Wii.  The more involvement from the entire family, the more successful the child will be in successfully managing the disease through diet and exercise (American Diabetes Association, 2000).  Of course, there are also medicinal treatments, but these should not be considered as a primary treatment.  Research suggests that pre-diabetic patients who receive diabetes intervention care through an emphasis on weight management and nutrition therapy were 50% less likely to progress to full-blown diabetes (Tuomilehto, 2001).

Diabetes affects children socially and emotionally as well as physically.  Progressing through puberty is difficult enough, but added to that a disease that limits what you can eat in a social setting, and potentially having to inject one’s self with needles throughout the day, and you have a situation that may make a child feel socially awkward, different, and alone.

In order to prevent this disease from spreading to more children, there must be an ecological approach to prevention and intervention.  Parents are the primary examples of what is normal and healthy.  Parents have to be the authority in providing low-calorie, nutrient-dense meals and snacks for their children.  They must also be committed to ensuring that their children are involved in extra-curricular activities that involve physical activity.

Primary care doctors need to be better informed about the nutritional needs of children, and if they can’t devote time to educate themselves in this area, they need to ensure that their patient is referred to a reputable dietician or nutritionist that will work with the child and his/her to formulate a plan that meets their needs.  Schools must offer healthy meals throughout the school day.  School systems should have mandatory nutrition education and physical education built into the curriculum.  Family and consumer sciences courses, a subject area that, among other things, covers topics such as nutrition and meal preparation, should be a mandatory course in all high schools instead of an elective course.  Churches and other community organizations must all be committed to educating students about what a balanced diet actually is, and the importance of the regular physical activity. (American Diabetes Association, 2000).  We must band together at all levels to ensure the health of our children. 

References

The American Diabetes Association. “Type 2 Diabetes In Children And Adolescents. American Diabetes Association“. Diabetes Care 23.3 (2000): 381-389.

Tuomilehto, Jaakko et al. “Prevention Of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus By Changes In Lifestyle Among Subjects With Impaired Glucose Tolerance”. New England Journal of Medicine 344.18 (2001): 1343-1350.

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