Type 2 diabetes on rise in children and teens: Here's what you must know

Topics Diabetes | Children's Day

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If you are under the impression that type 2 diabetes is an old man's disease, you are wrong. Over the past decades, more and more children have been falling prey to this disease and there seems to be no way to end it. According to the Canada Journal of Diabetes, type 2 diabetes in children has increased in frequency around the world over the past two decades. The journal also says that children from ethnic groups —  African, Arab, Asian, Hispanic, Indigenous or South Asian descent — are at a high risk for type 2 diabetes among their adult populations; these are disproportionately affected. While November 14 is celebrated as ‘Children’s Day’ in India, interestingly, it is also the same day when ‘World Diabetes Day’ is observed around the World. Let us take a look at how type 2 diabetes has created menace for children in India and how parents can protect them from this disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by abnormally high levels of blood glucose (blood sugar). In people suffering from diabetes, the body is unable to properly process food for use as energy. Let's put it this way - most of the food we eat turns into glucose or sugar, which our body uses for energy. The pancreas makes a hormone called 'insulin' to help glucose penetrate into the cells of the body. At times, the body doesn't make enough or any insulin. As a result, the glucose (or sugar) stays in the blood and over time causes health problems. This is why many people refer to diabetes as “sugar”.

What is type 2 diabetes?

Earlier known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95 per cent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It occurs when the body doesn't produce sufficient insulin or when the glucose stays in the blood and the body fails to utilise it as fuel for energy. Type-2 diabetes is often linked to obesity. However, other risk factors include old age, impaired glucose tolerance, physical inactivity, family history of diabetes, smoking, etc. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for around 90% of all diabetes worldwide.'

Why are children falling prey to type 2 diabetes?

The alarming rise of children being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in India has triggered critical warnings in families and health organisations.

"The number girls and boys with obesity between the ages of 5 and 19 have soared since the mid-1970s, rising by between 10- and 12-fold globally," Unicef said in a report.

Overweight and obesity, long thought of as conditions of the wealthy, are now increasingly a condition of the poor, reflecting the greater availability of ‘cheap calories’ from fatty and sugary foods around the world. They bring with them a heightened risk of non-communicable diseases, like type 2 diabetes, according to UNICEF's report.

Why is type 2 diabetes a major problem for Indian children?

At least 11.5 per cent of kids in the 2 to 4 age group in India is overweight, a study published in The Lancet said. It projected an overall 17.5% child overweight prevalence in 2030.

India is a developing country. The repercussion of this is - over the last couple of decades, there has been a tectonic shift in the lifestyle of families. High-calorie diet, junk food, lesser physical and outdoor activities are the major cause for the rise of in type 2 diabetes. While experts have coined the word ‘Diabesity’ for the prevalence of diabetes & obesity in children, the World Health Organization has described the situation as ‘exploding nightmare.’

Obesity, especially central obesity and increased visceral fat due to physical inactivity, and consumption of a high-calorie/high-fat and high sugar diets are major contributing factors for type 2 diabetes in Indians children.

Also, Type 2 diabetes is a highly heritable condition, with 90% of children and youth affected having a first- or second-degree relative who also has type 2 diabetes. However, with proper diet and a healthy lifestyle, it can be avoided.

Here's what needs to be noted: * India already has the highest number of adult diabetes cases (20 million) worldwide and this number is expected to rise to 57 million by 2020. *Although, there is less data on type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents in India, this phenomenon is waiting to declare itself in large measure.

Type 2 Diabetes: 3 reasons why type 2 diabetes could be a problem lurking for India

1. Rapid urbanization and economic growth create social dynamics that promote diabetes risk factors.

2. Type 2 diabetes in children is being increasingly reported from other Asian countries, (Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong) which are ahead of India in terms of economic developments.

3. Type 2 diabetes has been reported in children of Indian origin living in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and the US.

Trends in prevalence of diabetes by country income group (%), 1980–2014. Source: WHO

But the good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented. Before we get into that, here are some symptoms of type 2 diabetes to watch out in children:

Abnormal weight gain
Increase in thirst and frequency of urination
Increase in fatigue
Irritability or behavioural changes
Blurred vision
Abdominal pain
Slow healing of wounds

What's the solution?

In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had set a target for all the countries to halt the rise of type 2 diabetes by 2025. However, most countries seem to be missing the target. So, here's what parents can do to help their children prevent type 2 diabetes. 

Healthy diet: Parents must ensure encourage their children to eat low-fat, nutrient-rich diet (like fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and proteins).

Limited sugar intake: Limiting sugary foods and beverages can help prevent type 2 diabetes

Physical activities: Parents must encourage their children to stay active and spend less time in sedentary activities — like watching TV, online shows or playing video games.

Top 10 countries or territories for number of adults (20–79 years) with diabetes in 2019, 2030 and 2045. Source: IDF Diabetes Atlas (9th edition 2019)

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