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Type II diabetes is referred to as "adult-onset" because it is most often diagnosed in people over the age of 40. Yet in recent years, children have been developing Type II diabetes as young as 8 years old.
"While there is a genetic potential, the rise seems to also correlate with the rise in obesity," says Janice A. Greer, RN, MS, CDE, an endocrine clinical nurse specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Excess weight does not cause diabetes; it increases the risk when a predisposition to diabetes exists. "Most of these kids are young and obese, so the prevention issue is really related to prevention of obesity," says Kathy Murphy, PhD, director of the Diabetes Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Obesity is a growing health problem, and many factors contribute to its cause. Children are spending too many hours watching television or sitting in front of a computer playing games. In many families, both parents work, therefore, fast food is frequently on the dinner menu. In addition, highly processed foods laden with sugar and fat are being piled into the grocery cart rather than fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain items.
Prevention of Type II diabetes in children must begin when they are toddlers, says Murphy. Children who are off the growth chart at 3 years old probably will end up at the Diabetes Center when they are 10 years old, she says.
While unhealthy eating and lack of exercise are two of the factors that contribute to obesity, a third is overeating, says Murphy. Portions at most restaurants and fast-food outlets are now super-sized.
To change this trend, families must change their lifestyle, says Greer. "We have attempted on several occasions to find a program that will help children who are obese lose weight, and it is frustrating because children cannot make wise decisions. It needs to be a family affair," she argues. Yet families have their own obesity and lifestyle issues, which makes it challenging. They must not only change their child’s behavior, but also change their eating and exercise habits as well.
Knowledge about healthy choices is vital. It’s OK for people to go to a fast-food stand on occasion, but rather than select the deep-fried chicken or fish sandwich with 25 or more grams of fat, they should select the grilled chicken sandwich which has 5 g of fat or the plain hamburger with 9 g of fat, says Greer. Families also must learn to limit the hours of TV they watch and replace them with exercise. The message that needs to get out is that entire families need to change their lifestyle, says Greer. n
For more information about educating families on lifestyle change to prevent Type II diabetes, contact:
• Janice A. Greer, RN, MS, CDE, Endocrine Clinical Nurse Specialist, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, 909 E. Brill, Phoenix, AZ 85006. Telephone: (602) 239-4844. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Kathy Murphy, PhD, Director, Diabetes Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Telephone: (215) 590-3754. E-mail: Murphy@email.chop.edu.