Approximately 132,000 children and adolescents younger than 18 were diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Registered dietitians Lynn Hilleman and Pauline Fletcher at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Pediatric Diabetes Center said type 2 diabetes most commonly occurs in adults over age 40, yet it’s becoming increasingly more common in youth.
Hilleman and Fletcher, type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system of the body attacks the pancreas and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Research indicates that possible triggers are genetics, viral infections and environmental factors. In contrast, type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes, is partly inherited through specific genetics but is mostly linked with being overweight, having a poor diet and not getting enough exercise.
“Type 2 diabetes in children can be managed, and the symptoms can be reversed through diet, exercise and other healthy life choices,” Fletcher said. “The goal is to achieve a healthy weight and to slow the rise in blood sugar.”
Hilleman and Fletcher want parents to know about these top five things they can do and encourage their child with type 2 diabetes to do as well.
1. Get more active.
Exercise will help in a child’s overall health and weight loss. Weight loss will decrease insulin resistance and allow for the insulin produced to work more effectively. Go for walks, play ball or go to the park. Children need at least 60 minutes of activity a day.
2. Cut back on sugar.
This should be one of the core diet guidelines for food selection. Avoid foods that are pure sugar, such as soda and candy. It’s also important to limit sweet foods and desserts. Even drinks such as fruit juice are high in sugar content.
3. Offer healthy snacks.
Instead of a bag of chips or a quick run to the nearest fast food location, choose foods high in fiber such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods.
4. Limit screen time.
Screen time (televisions, computers, tablets, smartphones, video games) is typically a sedentary activity. Limiting screen time can help promote more physical activities such as going for a walk, riding a bike, dancing or even doing household chores.
5. Eat dinner as a family.
The goal is to get your family to unite over a new way of eating. Dining without distractions can help you focus on the food and your appetite. This will make it easier to stop when you’re full. Studies show that kids who eat dinner as a family have a more nutritious diet and are less likely to be obese. Aside from the fact that home-cooked meals are usually healthier than from a restaurant, eating a meal together can help build cohesion in the family.
Hilleman and Fletcher encourage parents with children who have type 2 diabetes to seek the assistance of a dietitian or nutritionist who can educate the family on how to prepare meals with the proper combination of foods to achieve adequate protein, vitamins and minerals.
“Helping kids with type 2 diabetes switch to healthier habits is key,” Hilleman said. “Because most kids are overweight when they’re diagnosed, it’s important to promote healthy eating and physical activity to prevent further weight gain or to encourage weight loss while making sure they grow and develop properly. You want to give them the best chance at health possible.”
Visit our website to learn more about Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Pediatric Diabetes Center.