Health Watch -- Kids With Diabetes

Health Watch is a Public Service of the   Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

A dangerous health problem for older adults is striking younger and younger victims.

The most common form of diabetes is called type 2 diabetes. It most often strikes middle-aged adults when their bodies no longer make enough insulin to process sugar. The other common type of diabetes, type 1, is often called juvenile diabetes because it's usually diagnosed during childhood. This is the kind of diabetes that requires frequent insulin shots because the pancreas stops making insulin. But lately, "juvenile diabetes" isn't the only kind of diabetes striking children. More and more children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say this is an alarming trend. Diabetes is the single greatest independent risk factor for heart disease, as well as a contributor to a number of other medical problems, including blindness and kidney disease.

Why are we seeing a rise in childhood type 2 diabetes?

Most of it comes down to the American lifestyle: too much sugary food and not enough exercise, which all adds up to obesity -- a major diabetes risk factor. More obese kids mean more kids who may be developing diabetes. We don't even have a good idea of how many children have diabetes because many cases may go undiagnosed. Doctors aren't used to having to check for an adult disease in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a project to track diabetes diagnoses in children.

If type 2 diabetes drastically affects adults who live with the disease for just a couple of decades, what can it do to kids who have a lifetime ahead of them? Early indications don't look good. Researchers at the University of Manitoba did a study where they followed young adults in their 20s and 30s who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as children. Two had already died while on dialysis. Three more were currently on dialysis. One had already had an amputation, and one had gone blind.

How can we prevent these things from happening to today's children? Nutrition experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say it's urgent that diabetes prevention strategies be developed. These strategies should emphasize diet, weight reduction and exercise, including diabetes control for those who already have the disease. People with diabetes also may need cholesterol management to prevent heart disease.

One thing you can do for your children's health is encourage them to be active and to maintain a healthy weight.