As a pediatric endocrinologist, I take care of kids with every type of diabetes imaginable. One of the biggest problems I now see is children with “adult” diabetes, better known as type 2 diabetes. We know that our Texas children are at a very high risk for developing this form of diabetes. We also know that there are certain genes which increase that risk, and that these genes are pretty common. Someday doctors will have blood tests that let parents know the genetic risk of diabetes for their children (and probably a good deal more).
Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes. Sadly nothing could be further from the truth. I see children as young as 6 years of age with this type of diabetes and they seem to get younger every year. Diabetes in children is an epidemic of epic proportions and it’s all around us. I like to call this the “family disease of the 21st century”. Why? It’s because I often see children who have both parents and other siblings diagnosed with the same disease. I challenge you to find a disease that affects so many within a family, so early.
For several years, many local schools have checked students for a change in the color and texture of the skin on the back of the neck. This condition, known as acanthosis nigricans (AN), is a sign that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future is high. The good news is that at the time a child is discovered to have AN, the chance that they actually have diabetes at that given moment is about 1 in 100. Nevertheless, the diabetes risk will always be there and it’s the family’s job to have their child’s primary doctor check for diabetes at least every other year after age 10. This is done by a simple blood test. This applies to parents too.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by reducing body weight by as little as 10-15% from where you start. For example, a 200 pound person would need to reduce weight by 20-30 pounds to see a big reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The good news is you don’t have to get “super skinny” to reduce the risk. Most studies have shown that reducing your daily calorie intake by around 100-150 calories a day will often dramatically reduce weight over time. One target for change is what you drink. The typical 12 ounce regular soda pop contains 150 calories. Try cutting back by at least one 12 ounce soda a day (more is better). Stick to it and you will see a change. I know: many of our children who switch from regular sugared sodas (clear or colored sodas, it doesn’t matter) to more water or sugar-free diet sodas will lose weight. Just make sure not to replace those calories with another liquid source of calories, like fruit juice, sport drinks or sugared tea since they have lots of empty calories too.
Remember this: one 12 ounce regular soda per day will cause an extra 16 pounds your body has to process each year!