By Jonene Ford
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. I have a research interest in diabetes prevention and intervention. This interest stems from 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 multiple 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 very best remedies for young people suffering from the disease is 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.
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 health coach who can help them learn foods that are healthy, and to help create better eating habits. The nutritionist should also emphasize the importance of getting an adequate amount of exercise everyday.
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. Of course, there are also medicinal treatments, but these should not be considered a primary treatment. Research suggests that pre-diabetic patients who receive diabetes intervention care through emphasis on weight management and nutrition therapy were 50% less likely to progress to full-blown diabetes.
Diabetes affects children socially and emotionally as well as physically. Progressing through puberty is difficult enough, but add to that a disease that limits what you can eat in social settings, and potentially having to inject yourself 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. We need all hands on deck! 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 patients are referred to a reputable nutritionist that will work with the child and his/her parent 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 regular physical activity.
We must band together at all levels to ensure the health of our children. What will you do to help prevent childhood-onset type 2 diabetes?