“Go out and play”, and “eat your vegetables”, is probably the simplest, best advice you can give your diabetic child.
Before 1990, when a child or teen was diagnosed with diabetes, it was usually with Type 1. But in the past twenty years, Type 2 diabetes, which was rarely seen in those under 20, has been growing at an alarming rate in this young population.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, and is not the result of diet or lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body’s cells develop a resistance to the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. As the need for insulin increases, the pancreas has difficulty producing the hormone, and blood glucose spikes to dangerously high levels.
Most kids diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are between 10 and 19, are clinically obese, and have a family history of Type 2 diabetes. It appears in children of all ethnic groups, but it’s more common in non-white kids. If a mother develops diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), her children are also more likely to develop the disease.
The recent phenomenon of childhood obesity has been accompanied by a rise in Type 2 diabetes in children. The sudden increase is troubling to doctors, because the longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk of developing its side effects: heart disease, eye problems, nerve damage, kidney disease, and other complications.
The bright side is that with proper medical treatment and a program of self-care that includes weight management, exercise, regular glucose monitoring, and a proper diet, most children can keep their blood sugar under control and avoid serious side effects.
The most common symptoms of diabetes in children
- Frequent headaches
- Blurred vision
- Frequent thirst or urination
- Dry, itchy skin
If your child is diabetic and exhibits any of these symptoms, their blood glucose levels may be on the high side. Have their medical team reevaluate their blood sugar management program. If your child has not been diagnosed, but is exhibiting any of these symptoms, have them screened for diabetes.
Treatments for children with Type 2 diabetes
Children with Type 1 diabetes are treated with insulin shots, but that’s usually not necessary for kids with Type 2. Most can manage their disease by getting plenty of exercise, and cutting back on calories, sugar, and fats. Some may also need to take oral medicine to control their blood glucose.
As a parent, you can lead the way. Speak openly with your child about their disease, so they understand its effects. At meal times, avoid fast food, high fat meals, and sugar-laden beverages like soda and sports drinks. Instead, serve lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Have your own exercise program, which will set an example for your child, because a sedentary lifestyle puts them at great risk for developing the complications of diabetes.
Check out the National Diabetes Education program’s resources for teens.