We’re at the end of November, but there’s still time to acknowledge that it’s National Diabetes Awareness Month, which is important because so many people are impacted by diabetes in our area and nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are currently more than 34 million Americans – more than one in 10 people – living with diabetes, a number that gets even more shocking when you consider that another 88 million – or one in three – have prediabetes, many of whom don’t even know they have it.
While it is typically associated with older adults, incidences of type 2 diabetes in children and teenagers are increasing rapidly. According to the CDC, between the years of 2002 and 2015, the incidence of type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents younger than age 20, increased by 4.8 percent each year. As with adults, type 2 diabetes among children and teens is due to a combination of insulin resistance and decreased insulin production over time.
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says lifestyle factors also 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, in some cases due to a decrease in funding.” Tillman 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,” Tillman 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 explained.
"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,” Tillman said. “However, children with diabetes can live normal, healthy lives. They can eat many of the same foods, however, families need to focus on everyone making healthier choices. More lean proteins, more veggies and fruits, and fewer sweets and processed foods are always good changes to make. As parents, we are responsible for being good role models and modeling the behavior we want to see from our children. One way we can accomplish this is to set time limits on screen time. Other ways to get children to be more active include encouraging team sports and setting aside time for parents and children to play together by playing ball, riding bikes, jumping on the trampoline, or simply making sure kids have time to run and play outside,” Tillman 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.