(Read part 1 of this two-part series here)
The increase in children and adolescents diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – previously developed generally by older adults – is significant. So what can be done to help these children and prevent the disease in the first place?
When children are diagnosed with diabetes, either Type 1 or Type 2, “it really becomes a family matter out of necessity,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, scientific and medical director of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) told Medical Daily.
While a diagnosis of diabetes is life changing, “one of the most important determinants is mindset,” he said. “Type 2 diabetes can be reversed with proper diet and exercise. Making it a family goal to improve on these aspects and finding a good supportive community can make a world of difference. “
Without such changes, diabetes complications can occur much earlier in a young person than in an adult.
Rachel Wolman, 30, of Richmond, Virginia, experienced this. Ms. Wolman grew up obese, had a lifelong eating disorder, and ate fast food – chicken nuggets and white bread twice a day by the age of 18. At 19, her pediatrician said she had prediabetes and told her to see a nutritionist.
“But I ignored it,” she said in an interview. “Nothing was super explained to me in a way that I could understand.”
Ms. Wolman developed yeast infections, dizziness, and extreme hunger and thirst every two weeks – all associated with high blood sugar levels. But she “didn’t want to bother.” At 21, she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
During her 20s, Ms. Wolman took various oral diabetes medications but avoided insulin because of her needle phobia. Despite the medication, her weight and blood sugar levels rose sharply. When she was 29, she experienced what is known as deep depression and agreed to take Ozempic, an injected diabetes drug that helps control her appetite. She also started seeing a therapist. In return, she ate less, and her weight and blood sugar levels decreased.
“What I didn’t realize is mine [uncontrolled] Diabetes has been linked to sleep and neuropathy [nerve pain] in my feet and toes, ”she said. “I’ve postponed my food, so now I’m trying to eat more vegetables and I’m very careful about what I eat. I used to eat six bagels in one sitting and now I have one. This is a big change for me. “
Take that away
A better understanding – what type 2 diabetes is, how it relates to food and weight, and how to eat it to treat it – would go a long way in preventing and managing the diagnosis, agree Ms. Wolman and medical experts .
“We live in an intense world of fat phobia that fat is wrong and bad,” said Ms. Wolman. “I believed for 10 years that I gave myself diabetes. I don’t think the training is there because the stigma is so intense. They don’t see role models of people with diabetes who are doing well. You only see people losing their feet or memes making fun of them. But I have it, and even though I’ve lost weight, I’m still fat – but I’ve learned how to control it. “
Finding other young people who are involved with diabetes can be helpful, said Dr. Gabbay. “For many children living with diabetes, they may be the only person in their school or community who deals with the everyday realities that come with diabetes.”
The ADA runs camps and other programs that bring people together to learn about exercise, eating habits, and other practices that improve diabetes management. “The goal is really to connect and empower teens to make healthy choices to develop lifelong habits and to encourage teens to develop sustainable healthy household habits,” said Dr. Gabbay.
Eventually, improved access to healthier foods, regular and sustained exercise, and treating the diabetes rather than ignoring it will all help prevent or prevent harmful diabetes complications, Karl Nadolsky, DO, told Medical Daily. Dr. Nadolsky is a spokesperson for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and a clinical endocrinologist for Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We need our health system to address the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic comprehensively and holistically and to improve the lifestyle of families in the earliest stages of risk in addition to intensive individual therapy,” said Dr. Nadolsky. “An earlier diagnosis puts a considerable strain on young adults and their families. You have to deal with the complications, but hard and careful work is required to avoid the complications. “
Cheryl Alkon is a veteran health and medicine writer based in Massachusetts. She is the author of Balancing Pregnancy With Pre-Existing Diabetes: Healthy Mother, Healthy Baby.