Simple parental conveniences—like using television as a baby sitter or serving fast foods instead of balanced, nutritious meals—are placing children at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The good news, however, is that the potentially deadly disease usually can be avoided if parents guide their children down a healthy lifestyle path.
Historically, type 2 diabetes has been primarily an adult illness. But the disease has a younger profile these days, occurring increasingly in children and adolescents due to an unprecedented rise in the number of overweight youngsters. The Texas Diabetes Council reports that 13,000 children in the state have type 2 diabetes, and experts worry that number could triple by 2025.
Fortunately, type 2 diabetes is not an infectious disease. Although the genes you inherit may increase your risk of developing diabetes, behavioral and lifestyle factors are even more critical.
“Parents need to be a good example for their kids,” says Carol Filer, coordinator of the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program at the Texas Department of State Health Services. “If your child sees you eating fruits and vegetables and low-fat milk and lean meat, they’re more likely to.”
Filer urges families to turn off the television and get moving. “Teach kids that physical activity is a fun part of everyday life,” she says.
Type 2 diabetes often begins with insulin resistance, a disorder in which cells do not use insulin properly, and develops until the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin. The result can cause serious health complications, including blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, and can even lead to death.
To lower your child’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, consider the following strategies:
- Plan nutritious meals and choose whole grains and whole-grain products over highly processed carbohydrates. Choose good fats (found in tuna, liquid vegetable oils and many nuts) instead of bad fats (found in hard margarines, fried foods, candy and cookies.)
- Forget the Clean Plate Club. Children need small, frequent meals or healthy snacks.
- Limit television time to less than two hours a day.
- Encourage children to move and play. Get them outdoors if weather permits. Play ball together as a family.
- Sprinkle physical activity throughout your daily routine. For instance, instead of your child riding in a grocery store cart, let him or her walk alongside you and reach for items on your shopping list.
- Teach the benefits of never starting to smoke.
Visit the National Diabetes Education Program at www.ndep.nih.gov for more information.