Rates of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in American children and teens increased sharply between 2001 and 2009, according to a study recently released in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Rates of Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin, rose 21 percent during the years of the study. Rates of Type 2 diabetes — formerly known as adult-onset diabetes because it was so rarely seen in children — rose more than 30 percent during the study period.
These drastic increases in childhood diabetes signal an epidemic of the disease among America’s youth. Doctors aren’t sure what’s behind the sharp increase in Type 1 diabetes, which occurs as an autoimmune response when the body attacks its own pancreatic cells. You can’t prevent this type of diabetes, but you can treat it with insulin.
Type 2 diabetes, which has its roots in obesity and genetic predisposition, can be prevented. Protect your child from Type 2 diabetes by encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle, teaching him or her about nutrition and getting professional help for childhood weight problems.
1) Teach Your Child About Good Nutrition
If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably going to need to brush up on your own nutritional knowledge in order to teach your kids about good nutrition. Learn how to read nutrition labels. Teach your kids about macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) as well as about micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Your child’s calorie needs will vary depending on his or her age, activity level and growth rate. Very young children will need only 1,000 to 1,200 calories; older children and teens will need as many calories as an adult — or more, if they are going through a growth spurt or very active. Teach your children to eat in a way that nourishes their bodies.
2) Make Sure the Whole Family Eats a Healthy Diet
Children learn from watching their parents. Your children will want to eat what they see you eat. Eating a healthy diet yourself sets a good example for your children and helps guarantee that they’ll grow into healthy adults with good self-care habits. Plus, eating healthy for your children will give you extra motivation to take care of yourself.
If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to changing your family’s eating habits, you can start by eating most of your meals at home. Food cooked at home contains only about two-thirds as many calories as the same food served in a restaurant. Gather the whole family together at meal times; research shows that the more often you eat together as a family, the less likely your children are to become overweight.
3) Encourage Physical Activity
The best way to reduce your risk and your children’s risk of Type 2 diabetes is to exercise regularly. Living an active lifestyle helps control your weight, blood pressure and blood sugar level. Regular exercise has a range of other health benefits, too, include increased energy, cancer and heart disease prevention, improved academic performance, osteoporosis prevention and even better mental health.
Adults need about 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, but children and teens need at least an hour of exercise each day. What with video games, television and the Internet, it can be hard to get your kids active. Encourage them to participate in after-school sports, and make time for regular family activities like hiking, biking, skiing or playing ball.
4) Get Professional Help
If your children or teens are already overweight or obese, consult your family physician for help. Your family doctor can tell you how much weight your child or teen needs to lose, and whether he or she has any health problems as a result of his or her weight. Your child will need to be screened for high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Your doctor may recommend a weight management program for your child, which may include counseling with behavioral therapists and dietitians. You may also have to change your own eating habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle, in order to set a good example for your child and make it easier for him or her to lose weight.
5) Be Patient
Making lifestyle changes and losing weight is a long and difficult process, no matter what your age. Teach your children how to set achievable fitness goals and support them in their efforts. Show them compassion when they fall short, and encourage them to try again. If you are also making lifestyle changes, don’t be afraid to let your kids see you struggle. Use these challenges as opportunities to teach your children that working hard for something is worthwhile.
Diabetes rates among children are on the rise, but you can protect your children from Type 2 diabetes by encouraging them to develop and maintain healthy habits. Active, healthy children will grow into active, healthy adults. By setting a good example for your children, you can improve your own health in the process.