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Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016

Diabetes in Children and Teens

It’s February. Just take a second and let that settle in your mind. We’ve already come through a full month of 2016. Time flies, right? That means January’s over and it’s time to start thinking about Valentine’s Day – what gift you’ll buy, which restaurant you’ll go to for that special evening and all the little things you’ll do to once again win the heart of your special someone.

It’s no coincidence, then, that winning one’s heart carries multiple meanings this month as February is dubbed “American Heart Month” each year. Heart disease and diabetes are forever linked, so while we’re considering heart health this month, we also should take a look at diabetes. What better hearts to win in this sense than those of our children? While it typically is associated with older adults, incidences of type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers were rapidly rising by the end of the 20th century. According to Medscape, between 15 and 45 percent of new cases of pediatric diabetes may be considered type 2 diabetes. As with adults, type 2 diabetes among children and teens is due to a combination of insulin resistance and decreased insulin production.

Diabetes program coordinator and registered nurse Dawn Hollaway from Blount Memorial Hospital’s Diabetes Management Center says lifestyle factors are part of the reason for the rise in type 2 diabetes cases in children and teenagers. “Children and teens have low levels of activity, spend numerous hours playing video and computer games, and school systems have fewer or no PE classes due to a decrease in funding.” she said. “With a decrease in activity and an increase in technology, weight gain among our children is at an epidemic high. In most families, both parents work outside of the home. There also is an increase in single-parent homes, which leads to a decrease in the amount of time parents have to prepare healthy home-cooked meals. Instead, parents are taking their children to eat at fast food restaurants to save time,” she explained. “When children are overweight, that leads to other health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes,” she added.

“Children and teens diagnosed with type 2 diabetes typically are between 10 and 19 years of age, are overweight, have a strong family history of diabetes, and have an insulin resistance,” Hollaway continued. “It can be difficult to diagnose type 2 diabetes in children because children may not always have symptoms or their symptoms may be mild. The risk factors for childhood diabetes include a family history, weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Symptoms can include frequent urination, dry mouth or extreme thirst, blurred vision, slow healing infections or wounds, and acanthosis nigricans, a skin disorder characterized by dark, thick, velvety skin in body folds and creases. This skin disorder can indicate insulin resistance,” she added.

Hollaway says there are steps you can take to help keep diabetes at bay. “Healthy meals, physical activity and weight control can help control diabetes and prevent long-term complications,” she said. “When children are diagnosed with diabetes, parents sometimes assume they can no longer eat sweets, enjoy the types of food they ate before, or attend birthday parties where treats may be present. However, children with diabetes still can lead normal, healthy lives. Children can eat the same foods, so long as they’re reducing portion sizes. Portion control is one important key to controlling type 2 diabetes. As parents, we also need to encourage our children to increase their activity. One way we can accomplish this is to limit the amount of time our children spend playing video and computer games. Other ways include encouraging children to play team sports, and setting aside time to go outside and engage in an activity such as playing ball, jumping on the trampoline, or just simply running and playing,” she explained. “Type 2 diabetes is a disease that can be controlled and even prevented in some cases. It’s important to remember that children are our future, so we all should work together to improve their health to give them the opportunity to live the long and healthy lives they deserve,” she added.

In recognition of American Heart month, the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center is hosting a Diabetes Lecture Series event called “Taking Control,” presented by Ann Gann from the A1C Champions© program. Gann will work toward empowering others who have diabetes and will learn more about the disease from them. The program is free and takes place Monday, Feb. 8 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Blount Memorial Hospital auditorium. For more information or to register by Thursday, Feb. 4, call 865-977-5767.

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