As childhood obesity rates rise, diabetes is becoming increasingly common in children and teenagers. When diabetes did occur in children in the past, it was typically Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile diabetes) which is caused by genetics. At this time, there are 186,000 people under the age of 20 that have diabetes, according to the CDC. With awareness and work, parents may be able to combat this rising public health problem and recognize the symptoms of diabetes in children.
What Does Diabetes Do?
When sugar and carbohydrates are consumed, the body converts these into blood sugar glucose that can be consumed by the cells for energy. The body secretes insulin from the pancreas that “unlocks” the cells and allows the glucose to be used. When a child has Type 1 diabetes, the body destroys the cells in the pancreas that create insulin, so the glucose stays in the bloodstream. When a child has Type 2 diabetes, the cells are resistant to the insulin, so again the glucose stays in the blood stream. Over time, the increased quantity of sugar in the blood can cause health complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, and blindness.
Some of the most common symptoms of diabetes in children include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Intense hunger cravings
- Weight loss
- Yeast infections in girls and diaper rash in babies
- Vision complications
There is no way to prevent Type 1 diabetes, although tests may be done to diagnose and treat the disease early if risk factors are present. Since obesity is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, the disease can be prevented by taking steps to prevent obesity or encourage weight loss. Children should be given access to a variety of healthy foods, with sweet and unhealthy foods being limited. Children should also be encouraged to participate in physical activities, rather than sedentary activities like watching television, playing video games, or going on the computer.