In Kentucky, 18 percent of high school-age kids are obese. Sadly, our state has the highest obesity rate in the country among this age group, according to “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,” a report released in September 2014 by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Statistics aren’t much better for our state’s younger children either. This is putting kids at risk for Type 2 diabetes, a disease that before the 1990s was believed to be very rare in children. In fact, it was so rare that Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes. To add to the worry, studies are indicating that diabetes progresses more rapidly in children than in adults and is harder to treat.
Lack of physical activity and poor eating habits are the primary reasons for these alarming statistics. Weight gain in part causes the body to not make enough insulin and/or not use the insulin properly to process sugar, causing the person to become insulin-resistant.
Poorly controlled diabetes significantly increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, eye problems, nerve damage, amputation and kidney failure. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for these complications. That means children who develop diabetes may suffer from these complications much earlier in life than people who are diagnosed as adults.
There is a silver lining to all this bad news. Diabetes can be prevented in children by making small, simple changes through increasing daily physical activity and eating a healthier diet. Even a small amount of weight loss can help prevent or delay diabetes.
To help children reach and maintain a healthy weight, experts at Norton Children’s Hospital recommend the following:
- Begin at birth. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity.
- Watch food intake. Control meal portions, snacks and sugary drinks.
- Eat healthy. Serve five portions of fruits and/or vegetables every day. Make healthy snack foods easy to find in the kitchen — place grapes, carrots or plain popcorn on the counter.
- Limit fast food. If you have to hit the drive-thru, choose salads or grilled sandwiches and hold the mayo; order the kid-size meal.
- Drink more water. Add fresh fruit or veggies, such as strawberries or slices of cucumber, to add variety.
- Be active as a family. Schedule one hour of exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be a formal workout at a gym. Turn up the music and dance; play games like tag or hide-and-seek; go to the park; play interactive video games on a Wii or similar gaming system.
- Limit television/computer time. Limit screen time to two hours or less each day.
- Set goals. Post goals and acknowledge them daily; reward successes with nonfood items.
- Know your child’s weight. Discuss concerns with your pediatrician.
Warning signs of diabetes
Children with Type 2 diabetes often feel no different. However, these are some common symptoms to watch for:
- Increased thirst
- Frequent or nighttime urination
- Blurry vision
- Unusual fatigue
If you notice any of these, contact a health care provider.
The easiest time to build healthy habits is while kids are young. Parents play a critical role in keeping kids healthy. Be a role model by serving wholesome foods and being active. Get more healthy living tips from the Norton Children’s Hospital “Play Smart & Eat Right” program.