Type 2 diabetes doesn’t have a chance at Marci O’Connor’s house. “We’re always tripping over a ball in our house,” says the mother of two boys, aged 10 and 12. While her older son plays competitive hockey six days a week, her younger one skateboards, bikes and plays in the local park. “To our kids, this is our norm,” she says, adding that her Mount Saint-Hilaire, Quebec neighbourhood lends itself to an active lifestyle.
Type 2 diabetes, which is often brought on by an unhealthy body weight and inactivity (though genes and other hereditary factors can play a part) is definitely on her radar, says O’ Connor, who writes the Being Marci blog. “I think it’s something that’s in the back of your head,” she says, adding she’s been careful to offer healthy snacks to her kids and limit sugary drinks.
O’Connor is wise to be watchful. The number of kids in Canada with the disease has been creeping up steadily. One in three kids born in 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in his or her lifetime, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.
Diabetes is no longer an “adult onset” disease
Obesity is the biggest contributor to the disease. Thirty per cent of kids in Canada are obese or overweight, says Dr. Shazhan Amed, a pediatric endocrinologist at B.C Children’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. And 95% of kids diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight.
Amed says 25 years ago type 2 was called “adult onset diabetes” and cases in kids were virtually unheard of. Now there are at least 113 new cases of type 2 diabetes each year in Canada.
What’s more, unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2, in which the pancreas fails to produce insulin or the body does not process the hormone effectively, can be prevented before it sets in. “Obesity is preventable,” says Amed. “Therefore, type 2 is a preventable condition.”
Your child may be at risk if he or she:
- Consumes an unhealthy diet filled with sugary snacks, processed foods, high-fat foods and sugary drinks, such as juice and pop
- Follows a sedentary, inactive lifestyle. Eighty-eight per cent of kids aren’t getting the 60 minutes of activity a day recommended by Health Canada, says Amed.
- Spends too much time in front of a screen — whether it’s TV, computer or video games
- Has a strong genetic link, such as a mother or father with the disease
- Has a skin condition called acathosis nigricans (dark, velvety patches in skin folds) or polycystic ovarian syndrome (which can cause excess weight gain)
- Is part of a high-risk ethnic group, such as the Southeast Asian or native community
You can lead by example
Modelling healthy behaviour is essential in teaching kids about proper eating and exercise, says Amed. “Say ‘I’m choosing healthy so you need to choose healthy,’” she adds.
Other tactics include:
- Don’t talk about dieting. “We don’t want to induce disordered eating in children,” says Amed. Instead, offer cut-up veggies and fruit in lieu of chips, pastries and sweets.
- Skip the juice and pop, which can contain 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Water is the best option to prevent “drinking” calories.
- Work exercise into the daily routine, whether through walks, playing tag in a schoolyard, riding a bike, raking leaves, etc.
- Limit screen time by treating it as a reward for good health habits.
And what’s the most encouraging part? In addition to type 2 diabetes being preventable, pre-diabetes — where blood glucose is abnormally high but not quite at the diabetic level — can be reversible in some cases. Amed cites a study in which obese kids diagnosed as pre-diabetic lost weight and exercised, reducing their blood sugar levels to normal.