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Diabetes dramatically on the rise among teenagers | Timi Gustafson, R.D.
Nearly a quarter of American children and adolescents is developing type 2 diabetes or has already the disease, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the journal Pediatrics. Diabetes and other metabolic conditions seem to spread more rapidly among the young and are harder to treat than in adults.
The study also found that over 50 percent of overweight and obese teenagers had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Prediabetes and diabetes rates rose faster than other lifestyle-related diseases among adolescents. “This was unexpected, especially since obesity has been leveling off,” said Dr. Ashleigh May, a researcher at the CDC and lead author of the study report.
The term “prediabetes” refers to higher than normal blood sugar levels and the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes and other risks factors for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, according to the CDC.
Not too long ago, type 2 diabetes was known as adult onset diabetes because it was virtually unheard of affecting children. But with the growing childhood obesity epidemic in recent years, more youngsters are being diagnosed with the disease every year.
Even normal-weight children are not completely safe. Of those thinner kids, 37 percent have at least one heart risk factor, said Dr. May. “Anyone who’s eating a diet high in sugar and fat will likely have problems, even if it isn’t apparent in their weight,” said Dr. Dorothy Becker, chief of endocrinology and diabetes at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “If they don’t make a change, then they’ll carry all of these risk factors into adulthood, and that’s like having a ticking time bomb over your head. You don’t necessarily know when it’s going to go off, but it’s likely that it will,” she added.
Dr. Mark Hyman, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder of The UltraWellness Center as well as bestselling author of “The Blood Sugar Solution,” agrees. “One in three children born today will have diabetes in their lifetime. We are raising the first generation of Americans to live sicker and die younger than their parents. Life expectancy is actually declining for the first time in human history,” he warned.
Even the distinction between prediabetes and diabetes he considers as meaningless. “Prediabetes is not ‘pre’ anything,” he said. “It is a deadly disease driving our biggest killers – heart attacks, strokes, cancer, dementia and more. So if your doctor has diagnosed you with prediabetes or metabolic syndrome, don’t think that you are only at risk for something “in the future,” such as diabetes or heart attack. The problem is happening right know.”
In response to study reports like these, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children and adolescents undergo regular check-ups of their blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The good news is that these developments are largely reversible and avoidable in the future through dietary changes and lifestyle improvements. “The big message here is that children and teenagers need more help with following a healthy diet and staying physically active,” said Dr. May.
Obviously parents are the first line of defense when it comes to their children’s health and well-being. But society has a role to play as well – nutrition and health education in all public schools being one of them.
In all likelihood this latest CDC study will be dismissed (like most others) in the public discourse as just another “doomsday” report that can be ignored. In truth, however, an entire generation’s future is at stake. If we continue on the path we are currently on, we are going to become a nation where being sick is normal and good health is the rare exception. It doesn’t have to come to that.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter (http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/TimiGustafsonRD).