The New Generation of Diabetics
More kids than previously thought face this diagnosis unless families act quickly
Diabetes and thyroid disease run in Toni Holloway’s family history. So when her daughter, Tyra, was overweight and diagnosed as prediabetic at just eight years old, this mom took action.
“We’ve changed our approach to eating and getting exercise as a family since the initial diagnosis,” Holloway, of Dallas, Texas, told LifeZette.
“This isn’t about being put on a drug or having a surgery. It’s about having a family-based approach to improve lifestyles and stabilize or lose weight,” said one pediatrician.
Now 14 years old, Tyra Holloway is no longer classified as prediabetic. But without her mother’s thoughtful interventions, that may not have been the case.
The number of adolescents with prediabetes and undiagnosed prediabetes is larger than previously thought, a recent report in JAMA found. Childhood obesity may be getting a lot of attention, said Dr. Stephen R. Cook, a pediatrician at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York — but the fact that kids can be prediabetic has not received nearly as much, he noted.
“Once a child or teen has prediabetes and obesity, they are at very elevated risk for developing type 2 diabetes,” Cook said.
The JAMA report used data collected from 2005 to 2014 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Researchers examined 2,606 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19. They were randomly selected, and they fasted prior to the exam.
Of these individuals, 62 had diabetes, 20 were undiagnosed, and 512 had prediabetes. In males, 22 percent were prediabetic, while 13 percent of females were prediabetic. A relatively large proportion of those tested were unaware of the condition, particularly among non-Hispanic black participants and Hispanic participants — something the authors say shows a need for more screening among adolescents.
“To our knowledge, these are the first estimates of diabetes in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents using all three American Diabetes Association-recommended biomarkers,” the report stated.
Taking Care of the Kids
Cook believes parents need to ensure their children have regular checkups that include recommended screening tests.
- Increased thirst
- Frequent or nighttime urination
- Blurry vision
- Unusual fatigue
This is about the “need to strongly advocate for behavioral treatment services,” said Cook. “This isn’t about being put on a drug or having a surgery. It’s about having a family-based approach to improve lifestyles and [to] stabilize or lose weight. And it must be evidence-based and directed by or through a pediatric tertiary care center.”
Cook added, “Parents must understand and be advocates for treating obesity as the method to prevent diabetes. It’s the same as treating hypertension [and controlling blood pressure] as the way to prevent kidney failure.”
If a child is obese and the family has a history of type 2 diabetes, they must engage in preventative lifestyle interventions, such as healthy eating and regular exercise.
“We cannot allow this to continue. We must work together to advocate for our children so that they are entering adulthood with healthy bodies,” said one advocate.
Getting to the Doctor
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in youth, said Dr. Amanda Staiano, spokesperson for the Obesity Society and an assistant professor at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Now type 2 diabetes accounts for 50 percent of diabetes diagnoses in adolescents,” Staiano said. “We cannot allow this to continue. We must work together to advocate for our children so that they are entering adulthood with healthy bodies.”
She often works with overweight and obese children to design eating and fitness programs. The programs also incorporate kid-friendly technology, such as video games that promote physical activity, as well as video chats with fitness coaches.
Children who are overweight or obese should see their pediatrician. He or she may order blood testing that would evaluate A1C levels and determine if the child is prediabetic or diabetic.
“Even if a child is classified as prediabetic or diabetic, there is still time to reverse this with exercise, weight loss, and medications to restore the child’s health,” she said.