Until recently, type 2 diabetes was also known as adult-onset diabetes. Now, it is no longer called adult-onset diabetes because so many children are developing the condition.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled in adolescents in the past 20 years. About 3,700 youth under 20 years old are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year, and the disease is particularly prevalent in minority youth.

The racial and ethnic groups at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes include African Americans, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and some Americans with Asian or Pacific Island backgrounds.

What is type 2 diabetes?

In general, those with type 2 diabetes have abnormally high blood sugar levels because their pancreas either produces too little insulin, or their bodies are resistant to the insulin that is produced. (Insulin is the hormone that transports the glucose into the body’s cells.)

Like adults with type 2 diabetes, children with the condition are at increased risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, and blindness later in life.

Type 2 diabetes has an inherited component. Still, biology isn’t destiny.

Obesity is a big trigger for diabetes. Weight gain, or fat, especially in the abdomen, increases the body’s demand for insulin and interferes with the body’s ability to use it properly. To prevent type 2 diabetes, help your children stay at a healthy weight.

Be a role model

Helping kids stay lean and fit is a tall order. The message kids get on television is to eat junk food and drink sugar-containing beverages such as soda. Schools often have unhealthy choices for children in the vending machines.

Still, you can help your kids keep their weight in check. In fact, your encouragement and actions may be the only thing they’ve got to counteract societal messages that promote weight gain.

As a parent, you set a huge example for your children. Your example carries a lot of importance, so make sure you practice what you preach. To get your kids into the exercise habit, for example, do what you want your kids to do rather than just urging them to go outside and play.

Participating as a family in lifestyle kinds of exercise, such as bike riding, hiking, walking, running, basketball, and tennis—fun activities that can carry over into adulthood—or even just playing in the park sends a strong message.

Eat dinner together

Likewise, to expand your children’s palates and help them learn to make healthy food choices, which, in turn, can help them avoid obesity, make family meal time a priority.

Why is this so important? Family dinners can promote healthy eating habits and encourage the consumption of a wide variety of healthy foods.

Not only will they eat by example, but new foods also will become less foreign when everyone has some. Of course, you may have to serve a new food 10 times before your children will try it. But don’t give up, or make an issue out of eating it.

To increase the likelihood your children will try a new food, have them help you select it in the supermarket and prepare it at home. If they don’t like a new food, experiment with different preparations. Don’t force your child to eat anything.

Don’t serve family style

To help your children get in touch with their hunger cues so they learn to stop eating when they’re full, don’t serve meals family style. It may encourage overeating. Portion out food in the kitchen and bring it to the table.

Also, model proper portion sizes yourself and let your kids know if they want more, they can have some if they’re still hungry.

Temper TV watching and eating

When it comes to weight gain, watching TV has a bad reputation—and for good reason. Eating in front of the television promotes mindless eating, and often overeating. Restrict food, including snacks, to the kitchen.

(Editor’s Note: Peter Hanna, M.D., is a Family Medicine physician practicing with Northwest Allied Physicians. His office can be reached at 825-0300.)

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