Children and type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes was once a disease that occurred primarily, if not exclusively, in adults. Today, however, the disease is increasingly appearing in adolescents and even in children. Recent research offers these alarming statistics:
- There has been a 10-to-30 fold increase in American children with type 2 diabetes in the past 10 to 15 years. Most of these children are from ethnic groups at high risk for type 2 diabetes, i.e. African, Hispanic and Asian descent. Given that 77 per cent of new Canadians are from these populations, the rate of type 2 diabetes in this country is expected to skyrocket in coming years.
- One in every three American children born in 2000 will likely be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime; similar rates are anticipated for Canadian children.
- Type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed in Canadian First Nations children as young as eight years of age, and the incidence appear to be increasing rapidly.
- In the next 15 years, it is anticipated that the global incidence of type 2 diabetes in children will increase by up to 50 per cent.
Who is at risk?
The development of type 2 diabetes is closely related to obesity; about 95 per cent of children with type 2 diabetes are overweight at diagnosis. Given that the proportion of Canadian children who are overweight has tripled in the last 30 years, it is not surprising that incidence of type 2 diabetes among youth is rising.
In addition to obesity, factors that increase a child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes include:
- being a member of a high-risk ethnic group;
- having a family history of the disease (especially being born to a mother whose pregnancy was complicated by diabetes);
- having dark, velvety patches in skin folds (a skin condition known as acanthosis nigricans);
- having high levels of fat in the blood (dyslipidemia);
- having high blood pressure (hypertension); and,
- having polycystic ovarian syndrome (a disorder in females that is marked by lack of menstrual periods, unusual hair growth and excess weight).
About half of all children with type 2 diabetes do not have any symptoms and are diagnosed only when screened for other disorders related to obesity. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends screening for type 2 diabetes in obese children 10 years of age and older (or when puberty starts, if earlier than age 10) who have at least two of the risk factors noted above.
A healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, studies in adults suggest that moderate weight loss and regular physical activity can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 50 per cent.
Try these simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference in the health of your family:
- switch from regular pop to sugar-free pop or water;
- switch to lower-fat dairy products, such as 1% or skim milk;
- offer children healthy snack choices, such as fresh fruits and cut-up veggies;
- model healthy eating and activity habits for your children;
- leave the car at home; walk or bike whenever possible;
- gradually reduce screen time (television computers, etc.) and replace it with active play time. try a family walk after dinner; and
- follow Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide and Canada’s Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth.
For more information
The following resources are available online: