Until recently, childhood diabetes was synonymous with type 1, previously called juvenile diabetes. With type 1, the pancreas does not produce insulin, the hormone necessary for getting glucose into the cells for energy. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, and those who have this disease must take insulin as part of their treatment.
With type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly, causing blood glucose levels to rise higher than normal. Those with type 2 diabetes typically control their blood sugar with diet, though they may also take insulin as part of their treatment. Type 2 diabetes, previously called adult-onset diabetes, was rare in children. But not anymore. Both types of diabetes are growing at alarming rates in children.
Each year from 2002-2012, new diagnoses of type 1 diabetes increased 1.8%, and new diagnoses of type 2 diabetes increased 4.8% in the U.S among youths under 20 years of age.
These rising rates create serious health problems for millions of children. Are your children at risk of developing diabetes? Are you aware of the dangers? Do you know the symptoms?
Symptoms of Childhood Diabetes
Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
Most of the symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are the same; however, you may notice the symptoms of type 1 diabetes more easily than type 2. This is because type 1 diabetes usually develops quickly, within a few weeks, leading to a quick onset of symptoms. Because type 2 diabetes develops gradually, the symptoms also appear gradually, making them more difficult to notice. Some of the symptoms can include:
Increased thirst: Extra sugar in the bloodstream pulls fluids from the tissue, causing thirst.
Intense hunger: Glucose not getting into your child’s cells for energy often triggers intense hunger.
Frequent urination: Drinking more fluids may result in frequent bathroom calls.
Weight loss: Insulin is a fat storage hormone, and if no insulin is being produced, the child cannot maintain their weight.
Mood changes: High sugar levels in the bloodstream can cause irritability and other mood changes.
Blurred vision: Extra sugar in the bloodstream may also pull fluids from the lenses of your child’s eyes, resulting in blurred or cloudy vision.
Fatigue: Without insulin, glucose cannot get into your child’s cells to provide energy. The result can be extreme tiredness or fatigue.
Slow wound healing: High levels of blood glucose can lead to poor blood circulation, making it difficult for blood to reach wounds that need healing.
Areas of darkened skin: This is a common symptom of type 2 diabetes, and it is caused by insulin resistance. The areas of darkened skin are most commonly found on the armpits and neck.
Health Complications of Childhood Diabetes
Children who develop diabetes are at great risk of developing diabetes-related diseases and other health conditions at an early age.
Some of these health complications include:
Eye damage (retinopathy)
Neuropathy (nerve damage)
Causes/Risk Factors of Childhood Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes
Though type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, what causes the immune system to attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas is unknown. Here are some of the known risk factors for type 1 diabetes.
Genetics: The presence of certain genes has been shown to increase the risk of type 1 diabetes.
Family history: Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes slightly increases your child’s risk of developing this disease.
Age: The typical ages for the onset of type 1 diabetes are 4 and 7; then 10 and 14.
Viruses: Studies suggest exposure to common viruses significantly increase children’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
Researchers do not know why rates of type 1 diabetes are rising. The rates of type 1 diabetes have been increasing globally between 3% to 5% per year. Because genetic changes cannot explain such an increase in such a short period of times, researchers believe there could be environmental factors at play here. But they don’t know for sure.
Type 2 Diabetes
The exact cause of type 2 diabetes is unknown. However, excess weight, family history, and genetics play an important role.
Here are some of the known risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Excess Weight: Being overweight is the main risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and this is particularly true with children. Diabesity is the fairly new term coined to show the interrelationship between obesity and diabetes; obesity almost always leads to diabetes, and it’s happening at younger and younger ages. (This is because obesity causes insulin resistance.)
Inactivity: Being sedentary increases your child’s risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies show that physical activity burns excess glucose and increases insulin resistance. It also helps children stay at a healthy weight.
Age: The start of puberty is the time many children develop type 2 diabetes.
Sex: Adolescent girls are more at risk of type 2 diabetes than are adolescent boys.
Family history: Like many diseases, the risk for type 2 disease increases if the child has a parent or sibling with this disease.
In addition to these risk factors, here are two more that exert a powerful influence on whether your child develops type 2 diabetes: poor quality diet and excess sugar consumption. These are so important they deserve their own sections.
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Childhood Diabetes and Diet
The 2 big dietary contributors to type 2 diabetes are processed foods and excess sugar consumption.
It is no accident that research shows rates of type 2 diabetes has increased since processed foods hijacked our food supply.
Food processing affects the way the metabolism works. Its lack of fiber causes a rapid rise in blood sugar levels shortly after consumption, triggering an insulin response. When you consume carbohydrates, your body turns them into glucose that is then absorbed into your bloodstream. Your blood glucose levels rise, causing your pancreas to release insulin to take the excess glucose to your cells. Your glucose levels then return to normal.
The type of carb you eat determines whether your blood glucose levels rise quickly or gradually. If you eat non-starchy vegetables, for instance, the fiber slows the rate of glucose absorption, causing a gradual rise in blood glucose levels. If you eat a candy bar or doughnut, there is nothing to slow the glucose absorption, and your blood glucose levels rise quickly.
This matters because if you regularly eat foods that cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels, it also triggers a continual insulin response that eventually either causes insulin resistance or it overworks the pancreas. This is the forerunner of type 2 diabetes.
Research shows the more processed a food is, the more it will affect blood sugar levels.
Excess Sugar Consumption
Though it makes sense that consuming too much sugar too often chronically raises blood glucose levels, which will eventually cause diabetes, scientists have never been able to confirm that. Any link between sugar consumption and diabetes is indirect, scientists have always argued, in that it can cause weight gain. The resulting obesity significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
But now the results of a large epidemiological study conducted by the University of California San Francisco indicates a direct link between increased sugar in the population’s food supply and increased rates of type 2 diabetes, independent of obesity rates and physical activity. The study showed that for every 150 calories of sugar available per person per day, the rates of diabetes in the population rose by 1%. The authors of the study said these results suggest that there are other factors besides obesity and total calorie intake that causes diabetes and that sugar consumption plays a large role.
How Much Sugar Do Your Children Eat?
Do you think your children don’t eat much sugar because you limit the amount of candy and other sweets in their diet? You might want to re-think that. A study published in the journal BMJ Open found almost 60% of the average American’s diet came from ultra-processed foods. (These are manufactured foods loaded with sweeteners, preservatives, emulsifiers, and other chemicals.) Further, the study found these ultra-processed foods are the main source of added sugar in the U.S. diet.
Most of the products containing added sugar aren’t obviously sweet, either. Here are just some of the “unsweet” products with added sugar:
While examining data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers discovered 40% of total daily calories for 2-18-year-olds came from added sugars and solid fats. Half of these calories came from these six sources: soda, grain desserts, pizza, fruit drinks, whole milk, and dairy desserts. All of these contain high amounts of added sugar.
And experts have continually stated we should limit the amount of added sugar we consume. For instance, the American Heart Association recommends that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day, and men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
How much are we eating?
Studies show American adults consume a whopping 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, and teens eat 34 teaspoons each day! That’s not difficult to do when you consider that a 12-ounce can of soda contains a little more than 9 teaspoons of sugar, and many people drink more than one per day! Given this amount of sugar, it’s no wonder childhood diabetes is on the upswing.
Preventing/Treating Childhood Diabetes
Giving your child a SANE diet is one of the best things you can do to treat both types of diabetes. This diet can even prevent or reverse type 2 diabetes. Here are some tips to help you give your child the foods that will help prevent or treat this disease.
Reduce Consumption of Processed Foods
One of the most important things you can do to prevent childhood diabetes is reduce your child’s consumption of processed foods. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store for meats and produce. Purchase whole foods and prepare meals at home. Reducing consumption of processed foods also limits consumption of sugar, so it takes care of both important issues.
Offer SANE Snacks
You don’t have to deprive your child of delicious treats. Simply make SANE substitutions. For instance, you can still give them cake or cupcakes. Simply make them yourself using almond or coconut flour, adding Erythritol to the mixture, a natural sweetener that doesn’t affect blood glucose levels. (Almond and coconut flour are great alternatives to starchy wheat flour, which causes a spike in blood sugar levels.)
A SANE diet contains foods that stabilize your child’s blood sugar levels. They are also filling and provide the nutrition your child needs. Plus, there are no calories or points to count or foods to remember. It’s a very simple plan. The 4 SANE food groups are non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole-food fats, and low-fructose fruits.
Here is a brief overview of each food group.
Non-Starchy Vegetables: 10+ servings per day. Non-starchy vegetables are filling, and they slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, ensuring a slow rise in blood sugar levels.
Nutrient-Dense Proteins: 3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal. It takes the body a long time to digest protein. This promotes stable blood sugar levels.
Whole-Food Fats: 3-6 servings per day. Whole-Food Fats are satisfying, and they help prevent weight gain. You see, once you replace carbs and sugars with whole-food fats, your child’s body will start burning fat as its preferred fuel source. This will help prevent obesity, which is another protection against childhood diabetes.
Low-Fructose Fruits: 0-3 servings per day. Having an occasional serving of low-fructose fruit is a tasty between-meal snack or after-dinner dessert.
Feed your child more SANE foods, and they’ll be no room for inSANE ones!
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