Yesterday, a mother responded to my article about diabetes. “Denise” took her 13-year-old son to the doctors for his annual physical. What she thought was to be a routine visit turned out to be anything but. She had only just read my article before her son was diagnosed with Type II diabetes.
The American Diabetes Association reports that over 208,000 American children have been diagnosed with diabetes and the number is rising. An estimated 5,000 new cases of Type II are discovered each year, according to a 2007 study done by the Journal of America Medical Association. This is especially alarming when you realize that about 20 years ago Type II diabetes in children was almost unheard of.
What is the main cause of this epidemic? Most experts agree its weight. The increase in Type II diabetes among children directly corresponds with the increase in childhood obesity. Studies have shown that more than 80 percent of all children with Type II are overweight with almost 40 percent of those being clinically obese.
Denise’s son weighs close to 300 pounds. When I called her to discuss the situation she told me he had been overweight all his life and she blamed family genetics, as many parents do. But, as we talked on the phone the real reasons for his being overweight came to light. When I asked him how often he exercised she said, “never.” In fact, he frequently didn’t even participate in physical education at school because it was too difficult for him. She would write notes excusing him from it. When I asked how he had spent his summer she said, “Mostly playing video games.” Then, I asked about his eating habits. She said he was a very picky eater and refused to eat anything healthy. His diet consisted mostly of fast foods, cookies and “box after box” of macaroni and cheese.” Her family doctor warned if she and her son didn’t make changes soon, things would only get worse.
To the doctor’s point, the effect Type II diabetes has on children lasts a lifetime. The data is still being studied as it is a fairly recent phenomenon but adolescents with Type II have shorter life spans, have higher risks of heart attacks, stokes, amputations of the legs and feet, as well as end-stage renal disease. Add to this the potential of a life sticking themselves with needles daily to check blood sugar and having to pay for medications or insulin to keep it under control.
The best way to help your child is to be proactive and take steps to lower the risk. As noted, the No. 1 cause for diabetes is obesity. If your child is overweight, you need to address the issue head on. While it may not be easy, it begins with making small changes that over time can make a big difference. Even a small amount of weight loss can help prevent or delay diabetes. And, in my experience, if the child is overweight, then most likely the parent is, too. So make it a family affair to start eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis.
Tips for Eating Healthy:
Drink water – Limit, or better yet, get rid of sugar-sweetened drinks, that would include soda, sports drinks, juices and coffee drinks.
Eat More Fruits and Veggies – Yes, it can be tough to get children to eat them, but often it’s a matter of persistence and trying different ones until you find something they like. Often times, it’s a matter of trying a variety of vegetables.
Keep healthy snacks in the kitchen and get rid of the crap – Put another way, if it isn’t available to them the kids won’t eat it. Keep bananas, apples, oranges on the counter and plain popcorn in the pantry. Get rid of the cookies, candies and other “goodies” people have lying around the house.
Limit the fast food — When I was growing, up a trip to the local fast food joint was an occasional treat, and not a weekly (or in many cases, daily) event. If you must go to a fast food place, order salads, fruit or other similar items. Avoid the burgers, fries or crispy chicken and opt for grilled chicken instead. And, instead of fries, choose apple slices or baked chips.
Tips for Getting Children to be Active:
Limit screen time – Today’s’ children spend on average 9 hours a day in front of a screen such as a TV, Computer, Phone, Tablet and of course Video Games. Limit them to no more than 2 hours a day and have them earn that time by first ensuring they get their “playtime” in.
Set Goals – Challenge your children by setting small goals for them to reach and then rewarding them with small items (NOT FOOD!). The goals can be anything such as hitting a number of steps per day, getting their chores done, or hitting x amount of “playtime”
Get Moving – Children and teens should get a MINIMUM of 60 minutes a day of exercise. While kids do take physical education in school, most school districts have curtailed the amount of time spent in gym class; many have either done away with it or are looking to. Add to it that “recess” time has been drastically reduced as well so that it is incumbent on the parents to make sure their children are active.
Better yet, set the example by joining your children in their activities.