Teens & Diabetes

Health, Home & Family
on July 4, 2004

Since learning she had diabetes at age 15, passing up fast food is one of the things Summer Johnson has done to keep her disease under control. Having diabetes as a teenager wasnt cool, says Johnson, now 21, of Corinth, Miss. (pop. 14,054).

Johnson has Type II diabetes, which occurs when the body doesnt produce enough insulin and cant properly use the insulin it does produce. Those at risk for Type II diabetes include young people who are overweight, dont exercise or have a family history of the disease. Symptoms of diabetes, in both children and adults, include fatigue, frequent thirst and urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, irritability and blurry vision. Children at risk for diabetes should be tested or screened beginning when they start puberty or by age 10.

Eating right and exercising are keys to preventing and living well with diabetes.

Food isnt the enemy, says Deborah Fillman, a registered dietician and certified diabetes educator in Owensboro, Ky. (pop. 54,067). Portion control and eating a variety of foods are good for everyone, including people with diabetes.

When regular, physician-approved exercise20 to 30 minutes three to four times a weekis added, maintaining a normal weight is easier and the body can use nutrients and insulin more efficiently.

It used to be rare to see people under 40 with Type II diabetes, now its not uncommon, says Jerry Meece, a certified diabetes educator and a pharmacist in Gainesville, Texas (pop. 15,538). He estimates children and teens represent about 40 percent of people newly diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Sixteen million Americans have diabetes, and as many as one-third of those dont know it, according to the American Diabetes Association. With diabetes comes a risk of kidney failure, heart disease, nerve damage and blindness. The longer the patient has diabetes, the greater the chances of complications, Meece says, explaining why the growing numbers of young people with Type II diabetes are a concern.

The good news is that many people such as Johnson can manage their disease with diet and exercise alone.

Johnson, whose mother and grandmother both have diabetes, takes staying healthy seriously. You have to try to do the right thingsexercise, pass up the fast food, she says. You know its better for you if you do.