Earlier in April, the World Health Organization (WHO) marked 7 April as World Health Day. Every year, the WHO focuses on a specific health topic for World Health Day. The focus of this year’s campaign was to bring attention to the rise of diabetes and to educate the public on the treatment and prevention of this disease that if left untreated or poorly managed, can have devastating consequences.
In this blog, we would like to focus on children and the factors that increase their risk for becoming diabetic, and what you can do to decrease this risk.
What are the risks of diabetes in children?
The frequency of diabetes is rising around the world, and studies are showing children are at increasing risk of developing the disease. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves – causing chronic problems and early death.
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes (sometimes called insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes) occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. The cause is not known, but it is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Many countries are documenting higher numbers of newly diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes, particularly in younger children. Currently, there is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes (sometimes called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes) happens when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Often preventable, it can result from excess body weight and physical inactivity, and sometimes, a genetic predisposition.
Recently, type 2 diabetes has increasingly been reported in children and adolescents. In some parts of the world type 2 diabetes has become the main type of diabetes in children. The global rise of childhood obesity and physical inactivity is widely believed to play a crucial role.
Taking Steps to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
Healthy eating and lifestyle habits are a strong defense against the disease. Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity can help in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
Here are some simple strategies to help reduce your children’s’ risk for developing type 2 diabetes and other associated health problems:
Make sure your children at a healthy diet. Limit fast food meals to no more than 1-2 times a month. Choose restaurants that offer healthy meals on the menu. Make healthy snacks easy to find in the kitchen. Good snack choices include easy to eat fruit and vegetables (apples, grapes, carrots, cucumbers) and plain popcorn. An easy tip to remember is to limit snacks that are wrapped and packaged – this includes chocolate and candy, potato chips, and pastries.
Limit sugary beverages. Consuming a lot of sugar-filled drinks like soda, juice, and sweet tea can lead to excessive weight gain. When eating out, choose water or plain milk for drinks.
Encourage increased physical activity. Decrease the amount of time your children spend in sedentary activities like watching TV or playing computer, phone and video games. Limit sitting in front of a screen to no more than 2 hours a day. Children and teenagers should get 60 minutes a day of exercise most days of the week. As the weather gets hot, go out for a walk in the evening, or walk in a mall or at a museum. Try to do something that gets you and your kids moving every day.
As always, remember to lead by example and embrace a healthy lifestyle yourself.
If you think your child may be overweight and therefore, at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you know your child’s weight goals and how to safely reach them, while eating a healthy diet to support their growth and development.
To see more of the WHO’s World Health Day 2016 message to beat diabetes, please click HERE.