Type 2 Diabetes on the Rise Among School-Age Kids

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April 17, 2017

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A concerning new byproduct of the obesity epidemic among children and teenagers is the relatively new rise of type 2 diabetes among school-age kids, according to a new study.

Type 2 diabetes was commonly known as “adult-onset” diabetes because it wouldn’t develop for years and is influenced heavily by lifestyle factors, including being overweight or obese, poor diet and lack of exercise or regular physical activity. In contrast, type 1 diabetes, formerly called “juvenile diabetes,” is when an individual is born with an immune system that destroys cells vital to the making of insulin.

The latest reported published in the New England Journal of Medicine blurs the distinction between type 1 and type 2, finding that type 2 diabetes is increasing among 10- to 19-year-olds. From 2002 to 2012, researchers found that rates for both types of diabetes increased, especially among racial and ethnic minorities. However, cases of type 2 diabetes increased at a higher rate than those of type 1. Between 2002 and 2012, the rate of type 2 diabetes increased 4.8 percent a year, compared to 1.8 percent a year for type 1 diabetes cases.

“The increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes is likely related primarily to the increases in overweight and obesity in youth, although this is not the only reason,” Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the author of the study on diabetes incidence in children, told CBS News.

Poor Diets and Sedentary Lifestyles

Obesity is the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes, although family history and other factors play a role. Behavioral factors that include a sedentary lifestyle and poor dieting primarily contribute to the obesity epidemic. In people with type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps convert sugar from foods into cells to be used as the body’s fuel. In type 2 diabetes, this process is disrupted and blood sugar levels can rise or fall sharply.

Obesity rates has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents overt the past 40 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Lifestyles influenced by the “digital age” — including the prevalence of video games, computers and social media — have influenced more sedentary habits and less active childhoods compared to previous generations.

Nearly one in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese. And rates are higher among minority communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese. The computer age, combined with fewer physical education requirements in public schools, have helped fuel obesity rates, says Javier Hiriart, M.D., a pediatrician and physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.

“Physical fitness has too many benefits to ignore, including helping to increase focus in school, improve sleeping habits and promote overall health,” says Dr. Hiriart. “It starts with decreasing ‘screen time’ on TVs, laptops and smartphones and increasing physical activity.”

U.S. guidelines call for children 6 years and older to get at least 60 minutes a day of physical activity.  This can include participating in team sports, going to a park, playground or walking/bicycle trails, dog walking, or opting for walking more often as a family to a destination, rather than driving, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Families can also take simple steps to eat healthier. The AAP recommends the following:

  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, high-calorie snacks and sweets.
  • Focus on healthy foods and beverages, such as water, fruits, vegetables and other low-calorie snacks, which should be readily available and in plain sight on the kitchen table or counter, or in the front of the shelf in the refrigerator.
  • High-calorie foods should be less visible – wrapped in foil rather than clear wrap, and placed in the back of the fridge or pantry.
  • Encourage children to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

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