Sounding the alarm


One of the fallouts of children being less physically active is the likelihood of them contracting lifestyle diseases like type 2 diabetes. Kanchan Naikawadi suggests ways to help our children lead active, diabetes free lives.

Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents. When diabetes strikes during childhood, it is usually assumed to be type 1, or juvenile-onset diabetes. The body simply stops producing insulin and the child becomes dependent on an external source of insulin for the rest of his/her life. However, in the last two decades, type 2 diabetes is also increasing among children and adolescents between the age group of 10-19 years, especially among children who are obese with a strong family history of type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, although the body does produce insulin, but due to various reasons such as obesity, physical inactivity or a poor diet, there is insulin resistance and glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Eventually this glucose reaches dangerous levels. So the child has to depend on external sources of insulin for his entire life.

Risk factors for diabetes

  • Overweight: Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes in children. The more fatty tissue a child has, the more resistant his or her cells become to insulin. However, weight isn’t the only factor in developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Family history of diabetes: The risk of type 2 diabetes significantly increases if a parent or sibling has type 2 diabetes — but it’s difficult to tell if this is related to lifestyle, genetics or both.
  • Other problems with insulin resistance: Most people with type 2 diabetes in childhood are diagnosed at the start of puberty, a developmental stage where there’s increased resistance.
  • However among these, the greatest risk of diabetes in children is excess weight. Once a child is overweight, the chances are more than doubled of the child developing diabetes. Obesity in children is again related to the changing lifestyle and food habits. Children today do not practice any physical activities and spent most of their time in front of laptops, tablets and phones. They do not play outdoor games which helps to keep the body active and fit. The less active a child is, the greater his or her risk of type 2 diabetes. Physical activity helps a child control his or her weight, uses glucose as energy, and makes the body’s cells more responsive to insulin.

    Additionally, with fast food becoming a part of our daily diet, children skip out on a nutritious diet and have very unhealthy eating habits. Parents are also busy and give children a lot of ready to eat food instead of home cooked nutritious food. These lifestyle changes, which are now becoming a way of life in India, are causing many lifestyle related diseases, even in children.

    Type 2 diabetes can cause serious health complications. That is why it is very important to know how to spot type 2 diabetes symptoms. Even prediabetes can increase the chance of heart disease, just like type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes due to high blood sugar may include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger (especially after eating)
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Headaches
  • Loss of consciousness (rare)
  • It’s important to get diabetes testing and start a treatment plan early to prevent serious diabetes complications. Type 2 diabetes is usually not diagnosed until health complications have occurred. Most often, there are no diabetes symptoms or a very gradual development of the above symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

    Preventing diabetes in children is crucial as diabetes is not curable. It can only be controlled at a later stage. Diabetes caused due to overweight in children and teenagers can be prevented mainly by bringing up kids in a healthy environment and inculcating good eating habits. Since young children pick up habits from their parents, it is important for parents to guide them and make them understand what is good and bad for them. Parents can take the following steps to lower chances of diabetes in children:

  • Encourage the child to undertake at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day in intervals.
  • Make meals and snacks that are healthy and taste good.
  • Take your kids grocery shopping. Teach them how to read food labels to help find healthy foods.
  • Limit portion sizes of foods high in fat, sugar, and salt.
  • Limit children’s play time in front of the computer, tablets, smart phones, and TV to 2 hours per day.
  • Ask the doctor if your kids are at a healthy weight, and if they have a greater chance of getting type 2 diabetes.

  • Kanchan

    Kanchan Naikawadi

    Kanchan Naikawadi is Preventive Healthcare Specialist, Indus Health Plus.