A troubling health trend in recent years is the rise of type 2 diabetes in youth and teenagers. Type 2 diabetes used to only be found in adults. This is why it’s been referred to as adult-onset diabetes. Unfortunately, doctors are diagnosing this disease in more and more young people.
Thankfully, there are easy ways to prevent your children from developing type 2 diabetes. The change starts at home, and as a parent, you play a significant role in helping your children stay healthy. Read on to discover what type 2 diabetes is, why it’s such a concern and what you can do to prevent this disease in your children.
What is Type 2 Diabetes
In order for our bodies to regulate our blood sugar levels, we need insulin. Insulin is made in the pancreas, and it helps blood sugar pass into your cells. However, when someone has type 2 diabetes, their body doesn’t recognize insulin or respond to it properly. This is because they have insulin resistance. (1)
When your body is insulin resistant, your pancreas responds by increasing the amount of insulin it produces. More and more insulin is pumped into your body to allow blood sugar to pass into your cells.
Unfortunately, your pancreas can only work so hard. Soon, it can’t produce enough insulin to move blood sugar around. This causes a build-up of sugar in your blood which leads to high blood pressure.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
There are a few genetic factors that place you at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Suppose you have a close family member such as a sibling or a parent with diabetes. In that case, you’re at a greater risk of developing it yourself. Certain ethnicities are also at a higher risk of developing diabetes. Specifically, Asian Americans, African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Hispanic/Latino Americans are genetically predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes. (2)
However, even if you have both a genetic and an ethnic predisposition to diabetes, this doesn’t mean you’ll develop the disease. In fact, the leading risk factor for developing diabetes is your lifestyle choices. This means that whether or not you develop type 2 diabetes is, for the most part, entirely in your control.
People who are overweight and don’t exercise at least 3 times a week are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Poor diet choices can also lead to an increased risk of developing the disease.
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Why is type 2 diabetes on the rise in youth and teens?
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in young people despite being an adult disease for many years. The biggest reason for this alarming change is the obesity epidemic in young people. (3) As obesity levels rise, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as well. Over the last 20 years, the obesity rates in the United States have doubled, and it looks like this trend isn’t likely to reverse itself any time soon. (4)
A 2017 study looked at the rise in diabetes diagnoses in youth between 2002 and 2010. It found that young girls were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than young boys. This is especially true of girls going through puberty because the hormones present in puberty make it more difficult for a girl’s body to properly use insulin. The study also showed a rise in type 2 diabetes cases in youth with Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans. (5) (6)
Preventing type 2 diabetes in youth and teens
There isn’t much you can do about your genetics or your ethnicity, but as a parent, there’s a lot you can do to help your child avoid type 2 diabetes.
Ensuring your child is at a healthy weight is the biggest thing you can do to prevent type 2 diabetes. You should not do this through diets, food restriction or extreme weight loss measures such as bariatric surgery and weight loss pills. That will only make the problem worse. (7)
Instead of extreme measures, you should make sure that your child’s diet is full of various foods. You should also make sure the food you provide them with tastes good. If your child feels that they’re being deprived of the “good stuff,” they’ll resist eating healthy while developing an obsession with the foods they “can’t have.” Moderation and variety are key. Foods aren’t “good” or “bad.” Some foods just have more nutrients than other foods.
Growing bodies need many nutrients, and the best place to find them is in whole foods. Meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, seed and dairy are all sources of essential nutrients. The more nutrients your child eats every day, the more energy they’ll have for healthy movement.
Healthy movement is the other side of the weight loss coin. Your child may not love running, or they may be too shy for team sports, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be physically active. Physical activity comes in a variety of forms. It may be a hike with the family or taking their dog for a walk through the park. It might be a day at the beach swimming in the water or a friendly game of soccer in the backyard. They may love dancing to music, or they may find yoga a relaxing activity.
Reducing sedentary behaviors such as watching TV, scrolling on the phone, and playing video games can help prevent type 2 diabetes. The key is to get them moving. If you can find an activity they actually enjoy, the chances are greater that they’ll stick with it and make it a part of their everyday lives.
Related: 9 ways to get kids to eat healthy food and be happy about it
Type 2 diabetes is an avoidable disease in youth and teens. The biggest thing you can do to help your children avoid this disease is to model the behaviors you want them to follow yourself.
Get outside and move with them and turn exercise into play. Enlist their help in choosing healthy meals and get them involved in food preparation and cooking. Not only will you be helping your child develop healthy habits for life, but you’ll also be bonding with them as you help your own health.
If you’re struggling to provide your child with the proper nutrition, you should speak with a nutritionist. They can help you cut through the noise and find the best meals to feed your growing kid.
Kaitlyn Bain is a professional health and wellness writer with a passion for helping her clients educate their readers on healthy lifestyles.