Diabetes Increasing Among Youth
November is National Diabetes Month, and there is a nationwide crisis of diabetes in our youth. Parents should be aware of the increasing risk of teens developing this disease, the signs of diabetes, and how to prevent it.
The Basics about Diabetes
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes while pregnant). With type 1 diabetes, your body cannot make insulin (a hormone that allows blood sugar into cells for use as energy). Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes (only 5% of the people who have diabetes have type 1) and it is most often diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and is unable to maintain blood sugar at normal levels. Until recently, young children and teens almost never got type 2 diabetes, which is why it used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Now, about one-third of American youth are overweight, a problem closely related to the increase in kids with type 2 diabetes, some as young as 10 years old. Type 2 diabetes CAN be prevented.
Diabetes by the Numbers
- The rate of new diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes in youth has been increasing 4.8% each year.
- More than 30 million US adults have diabetes—and 1 out of 4 of them don’t know they have it.
- At least 1 out of 3 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
- Medical costs for people with diabetes are twice as high as for people without diabetes.
- Risk of death for adults with diabetes is 50% higher than for adults without diabetes.
Common Symptoms of Diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have the same early warning signs:
- Urinating often
- Feeling very thirsty
- Feeling very hungry – even though you are eating
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurry vision
- Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
- Dry mouth
- Itchy skin
Preventing Type 2 Diabetes
People with diabetes are at high risk for long-term problems affecting the eyes, kidneys, heart, brain, feet, and nerves. The best way to prevent or delay these problems is to control your blood sugar and take good care of yourself by maintaining a healthy weight and getting exercise. Here are tips for preventing diabetes in youth:
Manage weight. People who are overweight, including kids, are more likely to develop diabetes. The risk is even higher if the person carries excess belly fat. Help your teen maintain a healthy weight with the following tips:
- Drink more water and limit sugary drinks.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Eat meals together as a family.
- Do not eat food in front of the TV or computer.
- Eat slowly because it takes at least 20 minutes to start feeling full. Never insist your teen “clean their plate.”
- Cook healthier meals.
- Fill your pantry with healthier snacks.
- Don’t use food as a reward for your child.
- Serve smaller portions.
- Don’t skip meals, but limit eating to 3 meals and 2 snacks each day and avoid eating after dinner.
Teens are still growing, so if they’re overweight, your goal should be to slow down weight gain while still allowing normal growth and development. Don’t put them on a weight loss diet without talking to their doctor first.
Get moving. Being physically active lowers the risk for type 2 diabetes because it helps the body use insulin better. Physical activity improves health in lots of other ways, too, from controlling blood pressure to boosting mental health.
- Aim for your child to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
- Offer a variety of suggestions for ways your teen can be active and find out what they like best.
- If your child has not been active, be sure to start slow and build up.
- Keep it positive.
- Do fun physical activity together – try a new activity, take walks, join a fitness class, or plan active family outings such as hiking or bike rides.
- Encourage teens to join a sports team or club.
- Limit screen time to 2 hours a day.
- Turn chores into games, like racing to see how fast you can clean the house or rake the yard.
If your teen is diagnosed with diabetes, make sure that they are under a doctor’s care. There is no cure for diabetes, which means that it must be managed well. A healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the impact of diabetes on your teen’s life. What your teen does every day makes a big difference: eating a healthy diet, being physically active, taking medicines if prescribed, and keeping health care appointments to stay on track.
In addition to following the advice of your teen’s doctor, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer several videos and articles about diabetes in youth that will help you determine ways to manage the illness in a healthy way: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetestv/youth.html