Once referred to as ‘maturity-onset diabetes’, type 2 diabetes is no longer seen only in adults. Alongside increasing rates of childhood obesity, we are now seeing both children and adolescents being diagnosed with this condition.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY CHILD DEVELOPS TYPE 2 DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes is often seen as less serious than type 1, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Regardless of the type or the treatment, diabetes is a serious health condition. Over time, high blood glucose levels can lead to other health concerns, including heart, kidney, eye and nerve problems, and the risk of developing these problems increases.
This means being diagnosed young is a real concern, as the chances of developing complications are higher, and they are more likely to develop earlier in life. In fact, studies have shown that young people with type 2 often develop diabetes- related complications earlier than those with type 1, and they commonly have multiple risk factors associated with both obesity and diabetes.
Currently, young people still make up a very small proportion of the overall number of people with type 2. However, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, between 2002-03 and 2011–12 there were about 400 new cases of type 2 diagnosed each year among young people aged 10-24. So the numbers are not insignificant and should not be ignored.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Similarly to adults, both lifestyle factors and genetics can contribute to a child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
THE CHILDREN MOST AT RISK ARE THOSE WHO:
• Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
• Are overweight or obese
• Are physically inactive
• Have unhealthy eating habits
• Are of Aboriginal or Pacific Islander descent, or belong to other high-risk groups, such as Indian or Chinese descent
THE HABITS THAT COUNT
• Provide and encourage healthy food choices
The 2014-15 National Health Survey found only one in 20 children aged 2-18 met the recommended guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake, suggesting there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to eating habits. In addition to consuming more fruit and veg, other dietary recommendations for reducing diabetes risk include replacing refined grains with minimally processed wholegrains, limiting processed and red meat, eating more fibre-rich plant foods, and minimising added sugars.
• Prioritise (happy and screen-free) family meals
Studies of children and adolescents have found that regular family meals and not watching television at meal times leads to better eating habits and a lower risk of childhood overweight or obesity. Positive family dynamics during meals have also been associated with a reduced risk of childhood obesity. While eating together isn’t always possible in a busy household, aim for at least a few family meals each week, and ensure they are eaten at the table and not in front of the TV.
• Encourage physical activity and reduce sedentary time
Regular exercise and less sitting time are both associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Yet the 2014-15 National Health Survey found that, on average, Australian kids aged 5-17 spent about 11⁄2 hours being physically active but more than two hours per day in front of a screen. And physical activity declined and screen time increased as they got older. There are many ways to get your children to be more active, including encouraging them to take up a team sport or activity they enjoy, limiting their screen time, and also being active as a family on weekends and during holiday periods.
• Keep screens out of the bedroom
According to the 2011-12 national health survey, almost half (44 per cent) of Australian children and young people (aged 2-17) had at least one screen-based item (such as a TV, computer or game console) in their bedroom. Among 15- to 17-year-olds, three-quarters had some kind of media in their bedroom, and those who did spent an average of two hours more a week watching or playing screen-based media compared with those without these items in their room.
• Encourage good sleep habits
Poor sleep has been linked with diabetes risk, and a study in healthy young adults of normal weight found that those who had a family history of type 2 diabetes and who had less than six hours of sleep a night were more insulin resistant than those who had adequate sleep. Another good reason to keep screens out of the bedroom!
• Address weight issues through making healthy lifestyle choices and by seeking professional help when needed.
In the latest national health survey, more than one in four children aged 5-17 were overweight or obese. Weight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes in both children and adults, so preventing weight gain and managing excess weight is essential when it comes to reducing diabetes risk.
• Discourage sugar-sweetened drinks
Regularly drinking sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with a significantly higher risk of childhood overweight/ obesity and type 2 diabetes. If consumed at all, these are best kept for special occasions, and water should be encouraged as your child’s main drink. Natural sparkling mineral or soda water with a slice of fresh lemon, lime or orange can provide a ‘fancier’ option for those who like it.
• Be a good role model
Unfortunately, ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ isn’t a good approach to encouraging healthy lifestyle habits in our kids. Instead, research has shown that family environments, particularly during early and middle childhood, help to shape our children’s food preferences, patterns of food intake, eating styles, and the development
of activity preferences and patterns – all of which can impact on their weight and health. So be sure to model the habits you’d like your kids to adopt, and make developing healthy lifestyle habits a family affair. The good news is that making these changes will not only reduce the risk of your child developing diabetes and other chronic diseases, it will also benefit the whole family.