Every parent wants to protect their children. Most of us go to great lengths to provide them with a stable home, a good education, and a happy childhood. We teach them to avoid strangers, to always wear a helmet, and to stop, drop, and roll if there is a fire. But new research shows that despite our protective instincts and all our efforts, 1 in 4 of our children are in danger and we are not doing what we need to in order to protect them. This statistic represents the number of adolescents believed to be in danger of developing Type 2 diabetes or who are already diabetic.
We hear a lot about the obesity epidemic on the news and how obesity increases the risk of developing serious health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But these new findings indicate that diabetes may progress more rapidly in adolescents than it does in adults and that the standard treatments used to treat the disease in adults do not work the same way for adolescents.
For those who are not currently impacted by diabetes, it may seem strange that researchers are only now learning what seem like basic differences between how the disease functions in people of different ages. What many do not realize is that Type 2 diabetes is something that adolescents never used to get. Cases of the disease in adolescents were unheard of prior to the 1990’s. By the end of that decade, however, about 1 in 10 adolescents had the disease or were at risk for developing it. By 2008, that figure jumped to 23%, increasing the need to understand why the prevalence is increasing so rapidly, what treatment options are most effective, and what we can do to prevent adolescents from developing the disease in the first place.
In many cases, the progression from pre-diabetes to Type 2 Diabetes is preventable. This is the good news. Two of the leading risk factors for developing diabetes that we can control are being overweight and not getting enough physical activity. With 64% of the adults in America classified as overweight or obese, we need to start by looking at the example we are setting for our children. Eating healthy and being active start at home. The first step we can take to protect our children is to look at how we, as a family, are living. Assessing what we are eating, our attitudes about food, and the subtle messages we may be sending related to food are the first step. Looking at how active we all are, both individually and as a family, is the next step in making the changes that may be needed to safeguard everyone’s health.
November is American Diabetes Month and groups around the country will be working to educate, inform, and raise awareness about the disease. For parents, teachers, physicians, medical practitioners, and community leaders, this month presents a wealth of opportunities to learn more and to educate others. The long term health consequences of diabetes paired with the staggering increase in adolescent prevalence within such a short time frame mean that this is a problem we, as a society, need to solve. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. In today’s world, it will take the whole village to save that child.