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Childhood Diabetes: Understanding the Rise and How to Manage It

Updated: Sep 17, 2023


I just saw an announcement from the FDA that two medications (Jardiance and Synjardy) were approved in addition to diet and exercise to improve blood sugar control in children 10 years and older with type 2 diabetes.


These medications can have some serious side effects like urinary tract infections, peripheral neuropathy, and GI issues. But let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. For the moment, the medications do not matter. Let’s start with children aged 10 and older with type 2 diabetes. Why are there so many overweight or obese kids? Why are kids getting type 2 diabetes? Is this shocking to anyone else?


We have seen a major shift in how we live, eat, and play. Kids used to be sent outside to play whenever possible. If it is raining – wear a raincoat and rain boots! Sunny and hot? Run through a sprinkler and put on some sunscreen. Snow? That’s what a snowsuit is for! There is no bad weather, only bad clothing choices.



I remember when I was a kid (younger than my son’s age), we lived in a very large house that had been converted into apartments. Behind this house was public land with a large forest, trails, and fields. My brother and I spent much of our summers exploring those lands. We would pack a backpack in the morning with snacks, lunch, drinks, a blanket, books, etc. and off we would go – usually all day long. We would sometimes walk to the corner store in the center of town and get some penny candy and a cold drink.



Then, we would walk back to the forest. There was a grove of large pine trees that created a secret fort area underneath their boughs with easily climbed branches. We would spend so much time there, reading, climbing trees, and running through fields. Our mom didn’t worry so long as we made it home before dinner time.


Fast forward to now…


Kids spend a lot of time indoors. I’m not sure if it is our busy lifestyles, concerns about kidnappings, or what, but kids are watching more TV or playing more video games. Kids are just not as active as they used to be. They eat mostly processed or fast foods rather than fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. The lack of physical activity and the increase in processed foods has led to metabolic issues and subsequently type 2 diabetes.


Now, I would like to also point out the medications mentioned previously are to be used WITH diet and exercise. This is sometimes easier said than done. Kids can get set in their ways. If chicken nuggets and fries have been indulged at every meal, it is hard to change to salmon filet, quinoa, and broccoli. And don’t get me started again on the school lunches!


I’m sure we are all tired of hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic, but certain aspects of the pandemic affected children in a profound way. Our kids were socially isolated, told to stay at home, increased their screen time with at-home learning, had access to snacks all day versus specific times. All these factors have led to an increase in obesity rates in children since the pandemic.


Some families find it challenging to have access to healthier foods. They live in areas that are full of fast-food places or convenience stores, but very few farmer’s markets, grocery stores, or healthy options. There are certain at-risk ethnicities including African American, Hispanic, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans. This points to a lack of health equity among persons of color.



So, what can be done to reverse this trend? Start with education!


Schools should be teaching about healthy choices and offer them in the school cafeteria.


Families should demonstrate healthy choices at home and eat together as a family. Rather than picking up some fast food on the way home, make it a priority to cook healthy meals at home.

Starting a garden can also get kids interested in fruits and vegetables. They love to see the plants growing and learn where their food comes from.


I also found success in teaching my son about his gut microbiome and the foods that the bacteria in his gut love to have.


Get kids outside in the fresh air. Take a walk as a family after dinner. Go to the park and play games like frisbee, soccer, or basketball instead of an indoor trampoline park. Play is important for adults, too. So, join them!


If there is no access to healthy fruits and vegetables in your area, investigate starting a community garden, farmer’s market, or Community Supported Agriculture farm box program.


Are you ready to help your kids PIVOT to health and wellness?




References:

Cioana M, Deng J, Nadarajah A, et al. The Prevalence of Obesity Among Children With Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(12):e2247186. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.47186

Jha S, Mehendale AM. Increased Incidence of Obesity in Children and Adolescents Post-COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review Article. Cureus. 2022 Sep 20;14(9):e29348. doi: 10.7759/cureus.29348. PMID: 36284800; PMCID: PMC9582903.

St Onge EL, Motycka CA, Rose RL. Type 2 diabetes in children: a growing epidemic. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Oct;11(4):212-22. doi: 10.5863/1551-6776-11.4.212. PMID: 23115537; PMCID: PMC3468104.

Tillotson CV, Bowden SA, Boktor SW. Pediatric Type 2 Diabetes. [Updated 2023 Feb 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431046/


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