Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in school-aged children. Nearly 19 percent of new cases are designated as type 2 diabetes, which can often be prevented, says Dr. Abraham Rodriguez, a pediatrician with Beloit Health System.
Type 1 occurs when the immune system destroys the body’s ability to make insulin, a hormone that helps cells to absorb glucose from the foods we eat. The only treatment is to take insulin.
“With type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin, but the cells don’t allow it to work properly,” Rodriguez explains. Many cases can be managed through diet and exercise.
Kids are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they:
- Have a family history of the disease. About 45 to 80 percent of children with type 2 diabetes have at least one close relative with the disease.
- Are inactive. Regular exercise helps to control weight, prompts the body to use glucose as energy, and may make cells more responsive to insulin.
- Belong to one of these ethnic groups: American Indian, Alaska native, African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino or Pacific Islander.
Symptoms include frequent urination, excessive thirst, fatigue, thick and dark skin on the neck or under the arms, increased hunger, weight loss, blurred vision and slow healing/frequent infections. While we can’t change genetic risk for type 2 diabetes, we can help children to make lifestyle changes that reduce their overall risk, such as:
Eating healthy. Provide your child with a variety of healthy food options, including lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Check food labels to ensure items are low in calories and fat. Help your child to control portion sizes, and avoid fried foods. Opt for water rather than soda or fruit drinks.
Getting active. Encourage your child to try a variety of physical activities to find what they enjoy most. Aim for 60 minutes of activity each day.
Being healthy together. A healthy diet and regular exercise are good for the entire family, so make it a group effort. ❚