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Diabetes in Young Children

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More White, American Children Getting Type 1 Diabetes

Cases of type 1 diabetes are increasing among white American children, especially among 5- to 9-year-olds, according to a study published recently in the journal Diabetes.

Almost 6,000 new cases of the disease were diagnosed in the United States among white teenagers and children, ages 19 and younger, between 2002 and 2009. Most new cases were in children between 5 and 9 years old; smaller increases were seen among children and teens 10 to 19 years old. No increase was seen in cases in children 4 years and younger. Boys were slightly more likely to develop the illness than girls.

From 2002 to 2009, cases of type 1 diabetes jumped from 24.4 per 100,000 children, to 27.4 per 100,000 children. The findings come from one of the largest U.S. studies on diabetes in children, involving data from more than 2 million youths living in different parts of the U.S., in the states of California, Colorado, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington.

What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes, formerly called juvenile diabetes, is the main type of this illness diagnosed in children and teenagers, as opposed to type 2 diabetes, which is mostly diagnosed in adults. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all diabetes cases in the U.S.

In type 1 diabetes, people lose the ability to produce insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas that the body needs, to use carbohydrates — sugars — from foods we eat, or to store the sugar for future use. After a person eats, blood sugar level rises. That in turn signals “beta” cells in the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream; insulin then attaches to cells throughout the body, causing them to absorb sugar from the blood. The cell then uses the sugar for energy. Insulin helps keep blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low.

Doctors don’t know at this time what causes people to develop type 1 diabetes, and there is no magical, quick cure for it, once the person has it. But in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there are lifestyle choices that the diabetic can make, to manage the disease, cut down drastically the risk of serious complications, and possibly, in some cases, even reverse the illness.

Keep Scheduled Doctors’ Appointments

If your child has type 1 diabetes, they will probably need insulin injections. It is important for your child to keep doctors’ appointments and follow treatments that his or her healthcare provider prescribes.

The doctor will also monitor your child for possible damage that can result from type 1 diabetes to the eyes, nerves and kidneys.

Diet for Diabetics

What we eat is vitally important for all of us; but in people with diabetes, it can take on an even greater importance, as it is essential for them to try to maintain blood sugar at normal levels as much as possible.

That means, instead of grabbing for quick, sugary snacks (pastries, candy and so on), your child should select foods lower in carbohydrates, relative to nutritional value. You want to minimize consumption of refined flours, which are also carbohydrates, such as cakes and cookies.

Examples of high-nutrition foods that will cause sugar to be absorbed more slowly: whole-grain granola bars, nuts, fresh fruits, plain low-fat yogurt with chopped fresh fruits, chopped fresh vegetables with fresh lemon juice or mustard as dips.

A good way to add nutrients and dietary fiber to meals, as well as slow the absorption of sugars, is to make sure that your child eats raw or minimally cooked vegetables with his or her meals. For example, instead of eating pepperoni and cheese pizza, choose a veggie pizza — say, cheese, diced tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers. When making spaghetti, add lots of chopped vegetables to the sauce.

Drinking plenty of plain purified water will help keep things moving in your child’s body. Instead of drinking a full glass of fruit juice, your child can pour an ounce or two of juice, then fill up the rest of the glass with water. A little juice mixed with lots of sparkling water gives a refreshing, low-sugar, low-calorie, natural beverage that is much better than a soda. Sodas should be avoided by a child who has diabetes; diet sodas should be limited, if they’re drunk at all, because they have a lot of artificial chemicals that are bad for all of us.

Getting Regular Exercise

Frequent exercise, like a good diet, is important for all of us; all the more so for a child with type 1 diabetes, as exercise helps the body to regulate blood insulin.

Encourage and facilitate your child getting some type of daily aerobic exercise, which can be a school sport, bike-riding, throwing a Frisbee, flying a kite, playing with the dog, etc. It is important that he or she exercise as close to every day as possible.

Managing Stress

This risk factor for diabetes is often overlooked by health professionals, but it is important for you to help your child manage or reduce the stress in his or her life (once again, this is good for all of us).

Stress hormones can directly affect blood sugar (glucose) levels. So, help your child and family find ways to ease up on daily stress: take a camping trip … in your backyard! Have a barbecue cookout where relatives get together and share time. Limit non-school-related daily screen time for your children (this includes video games). Turn off all screens and focus instead on relaxing hobbies, such as board games, puzzles, gardening, etc. Make prayer a daily habit in your family.

Risk Factors

Type 2 and type 1 diabetes share several factors in common, including:

  • A family history of the disease
  • Excess weight and obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Diseases of the pancreas
  • Rare infections of the pancreas

By Jamell Andrews

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