- Type 2 diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to control, use, and process sugar
- About 1 in 3 people under the age of 21 are at risk for type 2 diabetes due to being overweight and obese
- Young people with type 2 diabetes develop diabetes-related complications faster than those who develop type 2 diabetes as adults
- Type 2 diabetes can cause heart disease, nerve and kidney damage, vision problems, and other serious harmful medical conditions
In a multi-site study of medical records, researchers have reported a sharp rise in type 2 diabetes among children and teens during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent report published by The Journal of Pediatrics, the authors said this increase may be due to environmental factors.
The researchers looked at the medical records of 3,113 young patients between the ages of 8 and 21 across the United States. The average number of new type 2 diagnoses in the 2 years before the pandemic increased from 825 to 1,463 during the first year of the pandemic, which is an increase of 77%.
During the first year of the pandemic, the records showed that more boys (55%) were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than girls (45%), which is a reverse of the percentages from pre-pandemic years. Compared with rates during the previous 2 years, the number of diagnoses in young Hispanic people almost doubled during the first year of the pandemic, and the number of diagnoses among young Black people doubled.
According to the study, the increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses may be due to environmental factors including virtual learning for students instead of being in a classroom and the shutdown of sports and other school activities. In addition, many children and teens were less physically active because they stayed at home due to lockdowns and spent more time watching TV, playing video games, or using other electronic devices.
Until recently, young children, tweens, and teens almost never got type 2 diabetes, which is why the condition used to be called adult-onset diabetes. Now, about 33% (1 out of 3) of young people in the US are overweight or obese, which is the reason why type 2 diabetes in children and teens is rising. If your child has gained a lot of weight in the past 2 years, you should:
- Contact your child’s doctor to screen for type 2 diabetes.
- If your child already has type 2 diabetes, follow your child’s treatment plan to prevent complications, including kidney damage, due to the disease.
- Talk to your child’s doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations about diet and exercise.
Remember, there’s a lot you can do to help your children prevent type 2 diabetes. Start by setting a new normal as a family—healthy changes become habits more easily when everyone does them together. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Drink more water and fewer sugary drinks
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Eat slowly—did you know it takes at least 20 minutes to start feeling full?
- Avoid eating while watching TV or using a computer
- Shop for food together
- Shop when you and your child are full, so you’re not tempted to buy unhealthy food
- Teach your child to read food labels to understand which foods are healthiest
- Have meals together as a family as often as you can
- Don’t tell your child to clean their plate
- Serve individual, small portions; let your child ask for seconds
- Reward your child with praise instead of food
- Aim for your child to get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, in several 10- or 15-minute sessions or all at once
- Start slow and build up
- Keep it positive—focus on progress
- Take parent-and-child fitness classes together
- Make physical activity more fun; try new things
- Ask your child which activities they like best—remember everyone is different
- Encourage your child to join a sports team
- Have a “fit kit” available—a jump rope, hand weights, resistance bands
- Limit screen time to 2 hours a day
- Plan active outings, like hiking or biking
- Take walks together
- Move more – both in-and-out of the house—activities such as, vacuuming, raking leaves, and gardening
- Turn chores into games, like racing to see how fast you can clean the house
Young kids and teens are still growing, so if your child is overweight the goal is to slow down weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Don’t put your child on a weight loss diet without first talking to their doctor.
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