Why Your Children May Already Be Pre-Diabetic

Children Eating

Are you aware the daily diet of an average American child or adolescent (ages two to eighteen) consists of 40% '“empty" calories from sugar and unhealthy fats? About half those calories come from sodas and fruit drinks loaded with sugar, full-fat dairy desserts and foods such as pizza and fast-food burgers. For so many of us growing up, breakfast equated to sugar cereals which were marketed heavily to us through television commercials, and our parents didn't have the nutritional awareness that one would think is far more widespread today.

And yet the supermarket aisles are still full of the same sugar cereals, waffles and pancakes with sweet jams, whipped cream and powdered sugar are available in nearly every breakfast serving restaurant, and kids are less healthy today than ever before.

Poor diet is a major factor in the alarming increase of childhood obesity in the U.S. An overweight child or adolescent who continues to eat unhealthily and gets little exercise is at risk for contracting serious diseases. These include high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, depression, arthritis, and type-2 diabetes, disorders which ordinarily develop in middle age or later. Of particular concern is the marked increase of type-2 diabetes in the adolescent population, especially among African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Often the cultural bias is based on finances; that lower income families are more likely to purchase less expensive processed foods. That healthy food is just too expensive. It's a problem we have to deal with.

Poor diet during childhood and adolescence creates other daunting long-term hazards. Overweight teens are 70% more likely to become obese adults than those who maintain a healthy weight. That risk increases to 80% if at least one parent is overweight. Obesity continuing into adulthood increases the likelihood of many serious health problems, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Educating parents to take control of their health, to change their eating habits and overall approach to diet, can only trickle down to their kids. I know that losing 50 pounds myself and taking control of my diabetes has made it impossible for me to ever let my future kids eat the way I used to.

Diabetes is a disease that must be strictly controlled in order to prevent serious complications that can be fatal or compromise quality of life, such as kidney disease, vision loss, stroke, dementia, heart disease and nerve damage or vascular disease that can lead to limb amputations. It is controllable, but requires a radical rethinking of the way we feed our children. For me, the fear of any of the above, especially early onset dementia, was what it took to scare me straight.

There are two forms of diabetes. Type-1, also known as juvenile diabetes, is usually limited to children and young adults. The onset of type-2 is typically middle age. Either, however, can occur at any age.

Both types of diabetes have similarities, but key differences dictate treatment. Both type-1 and type-2 involve the hormone insulin, which enables transportation of glucose (blood sugar), converted by the body from sugar and starches, to the body's cells and muscles for energy.

Type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the pancreatic islet cells that normally produce insulin are destroyed by the immune system when it erroneously targets them as foreign invaders. When insulin becomes unavailable, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, where it can cause life-threatening complications. Once islet cells are destroyed, insulin production completely ceases in the body. Type-1 diabetes is an incurable, though treatable, condition.

The good news about type-1 diabetes is that many people who have it live long, healthy lives and avoid dangerous complications through strict compliance with their doctor's instructions. They keep their blood sugar levels within the recommended range, carefully plan meals and snacks, get exercise, and maintain regular insulin therapy. Developing the right attitude early in the disease is essential to good control.

Current, ongoing diabetes research focuses on regeneration or transplantation of islet cells, as well as the eventual development of an artificial pancreas to reverse the disease. Until hypotheses become reality, type-1 diabetes must be treated by frequent blood tests to check glucose levels and injections of insulin as needed to avoid both too-high and too-low glucose. Children can learn to perform their own blood checks and self-administer injections.

In type-2 diabetes, insulin production gradually decreases, and the body doesn't properly respond to the insulin it does produce. In many cases, this type of the disease may be controlled without medication through dietary changes, weight loss and exercise, especially if initiated early. If not, medication or even insulin injections may become necessary.

Both types of diabetes may exhibit some or all of the same symptoms: increased thirst and hunger, frequent urination, weight loss, fatigue, trembling, and blurred vision. These may be sudden and acute in type-1, but appear slowly in type-2.

Heredity is implicated in who develops type-1 diabetes, and environmental factors (exposure to certain foods, viruses, and toxins such as food additives, chemicals, and the drugs streptozotocin and pentamidine) are thought to trigger the disease, but the exact cause is unknown. Nevertheless, research indicates that infants breastfed for at least their first four months of life have reduced risk of developing the disease.

Conversely, early termination of breastfeeding with too-early exposure to cow's milk and cereal protein appears to increase risk. Additional research is underway to define the influence of infant nutrition on type-1 diabetes risk. Heavy consumption of sugar plays no role in its onset (a common misconception), but childhood diet promoting obesity is definitely a risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

Vigilant parents will ensure appropriate and healthy diets for their children, beginning in infancy, encourage adequate exercise as they grow older, and demonstrate positive examples in their own lifestyles with regard to diet and exercise. Healthy eating habits instilled in childhood should improve the odds that kids will grow up to be health-conscious and healthy adults.

Say goodbye to Tony the Tiger, Cap'n Crunch, Ronald McDonald, and Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity and say hello to health!

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11/30/2014 8:00:00 AM
Rob Greenstein
Written by Rob Greenstein
Rob Greenstein is the Editor-in-Chief and President of Wellness.com, Inc.
View Full Profile Website: http://www.wellness.com/

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