While early-onset diabetes is typically type 1, the last three decades have shown a drastic increase in type 2 diabetes among children and teens. Traditionally only found in adults later in life, type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin and is unable to properly regulate blood sugar.
Below, are the five principal causes of diabetes in children and how to reverse this alarming and growing epidemic in our youth.
1. Being overweight or obese. Nearly 90 percent of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Children who are overweight have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Extra weight puts extra pressure on the body’s capacity to control levels of blood sugar.
2. Lack of physical activity. Lack of exercise is one of the main causes of diabetes in children. Children need to stay active to avoid gaining weight and developing diabetes. Inactive children often have higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those that exercise regularly. All children should make sure to get at least one hour of physical activity each day.
3. Poor diet. Improper nutrition consists of a diet of too much fast food, sodas, chips, cookies and other sweets and fattening foods. The easy availability of fast food, vending machines loaded with candy bars and increasing price of fresh produce may make it difficult to ensure that children get all the nutrients they need. However, smart changes in diet could be the difference a child’s nutritional levels needs to prevent diabetes.
4. Genetics. Diabetes may be a hereditary disease. Having parents that suffer from the disease may drastically increase a child’s chances of developing either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If those with diabetes have children, it is important to take special care to ensure that the child is developing healthy habits from a young age.
5. Sex and race. Girls suffer from type 2 diabetes more often than boys during their young years. Also, children of Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic and Native American heritage are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The exact reason for these causes is unknown.
Although more children are diagnosed with diabetes each year, type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. Knowing the five main causes of diabetes in children can help parents, teachers, other adults take active steps to limit the growth of this highly preventable problem.