Worldwide, diabetes has affected a large number of people. Around 7.7 crores of people in India have diabetes, and the numbers are increasing. However, another point of concern is the rapid increase in the number of cases with diabetes amongst the youth and children. Earlier, children were affected by type 1 or juvenile diabetes, where the body cannot produce insulin. But with lifestyle changes, irregular eating habits and obesity, children and adolescents (those between 13 to 17 years of age) are becoming more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body either does not make insulin or cannot use insulin. Early diagnosis and timely treatment of diabetes can improve health in the youth and children.
Type 2 diabetes in children
Type 2 diabetes is less common in young children, but it can occur when insulin functioning is not proper. Without enough insulin, glucose can accumulate in the bloodstream.
With the altered and unhealthy lifestyle amongst the youth and children, the rates of type 2 diabetes are increasing due to childhood obesity.
What are the symptoms?
Children and adolescents may present with the following symptoms:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent urge to pass urine
- Blurred vision
- Feeling tired and low on energy most of the time
- Darkened areas on the skin, especially in the neck and armpits
Why is the risk more in children and adolescents?
Some children and youth have a high chance of developing type 2 diabetes, and certain factors increase the risk further, including:
- Being overweight or obesity
- Not being physically active
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Preterm birth
- Children who are born to mothers who had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
More than 75% of children with type 2 diabetes have someone in the family with the same disorder, either due to genetics or shared lifestyle habits2. Having a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes is associated with a higher risk.
Why is type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents worrisome?
Diabetes is often associated with long-term complications that develop gradually over the years, and these complications can be debilitating and sometimes fatal. Children and adolescents with diabetes are at risk of developing complications earlier than adults with diabetes.
Thus, it is crucial to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of complications.
Preventing the condition
Rates of obesity in children and adolescents are rising, and so are the rates of type 2 diabetes. Most children with type 2 diabetes have a close relative who has it too. But family history is one factor; such children may also develop type 2 diabetes due to their faulty food habits and irregular lifestyle.
Parents can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes by following certain practices and including the entire family in the plan:
- Drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks
- Including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the daily meals
Parents should encourage their children to become physically active and ensure that they exercise regularly or indulge in some physical activities. Healthy changes can turn into habits if the whole family gets together.
Children and adolescents are the future of our country, and we must ensure to give them a healthy life. Parents can motivate them to lead a healthy and happy life by incorporating these effective and critical changes in their daily routine!
(Dr Pranjali Shah, MBBS, F. Diab (Chennai), PG Dip.Diab (Chennai) Chief Diabetologist, Eyeheal and Apt Diabetes clinic, Mulund (W), Mumbai-80)