Childhood Diabesity: The Growing Epidemic
Worrying about your children is part of being a parent. You worry about stranger danger, schoolyard safety, internet predators, drug use, and teenage pregnancy. You’ve probably worried about everything in your child’s life at one time or another. But have you ever worried about childhood diabesity?
If you have never thought about this disease, much less worried about it, you should. You see, childhood diabesity is a growing problem with the potential to become the worst epidemic this world has ever seen.
What is childhood diabesity?
Childhood diabesity is a condition in which the underlying causes of obesity and diabetes — primarily insulin resistance or dysfunction of pancreatic beta-cells — are present in children. The term “diabesity” not only represents the exploding twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes, but it also describes the interrelationship between the two conditions.
Namely, obesity is caused by and causes insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90% of those who are obese will develop type 2 diabetes.
Childhood diabesity: a disease that was not supposed to occur
Childhood obesity wasn’t much of a problem 20 or 30 years ago, and neither was type 2 diabetes. In fact, type 2 diabetes was considered to be an “adult” condition; it was even called “adult-onset diabetes.”
The only type of diabetes present in a small percentage of children back then was type 1 diabetes, known as juvenile diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. This causes the pancreas to produce an insufficient amount of insulin for the body’s needs, and a person with type 1 diabetes requires insulin treatment.
Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is primarily caused by environmental and lifestyle factors, although genetics also play a role. It is normally controlled with diet, although insulin treatments may also be prescribed. The number one risk factor for type 2 diabetes is obesity, and that is the main reason why it is now affecting children.
How the epidemic of childhood obesity caused childhood diabesity
The percentage of obese children and adolescents in the U.S. more than tripled from 1971 to 2011, fueling the rising diabetes rates in children. (Statistics show at least 80% of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight.) Diabesity begins with mild insulin resistance that can progress all the way up to full-blown type 2 diabetes. This is childhood diabesity, the numbers of which are growing at an alarming rate.
What are the rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children?
Just consider these statistics:
- More than 12 million children and teens in the U.S. are obese. (Source: Centers for Disease Control.)
- Obese children are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than those of normal weight. (Source: “Body Mass Index and Incident Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in Children and Young Adults: A Retrospective Cohort Study,” published in Journal of the Endocrine Society.)
- Around 3,600 new cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed in children and teens each year in the U.S. between 2002 and 2005. (Source: The SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study)
Symptoms of childhood diabesity and type 2 diabetes
Well before children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, they will experience progressive insulin resistance. This is a feature of childhood diabesity, and it comes with the following symptoms:
- Abdominal fat
- Elevated blood sugar levels
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol/triglyceride levels.
If you’re thinking the last three symptoms are not something children experience, think again. Unfortunately, these conditions are becoming more common in children because of childhood diabesity.
If insulin resistance turns into type 2 diabetes, the symptoms can include:
- Frequent and extreme hunger
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
Causes of childhood diabesity
The main causes of childhood diabesity are poor-quality diet and lack of physical activity.
Poor-quality diet and childhood diabesity
A poor-quality diet is the number one cause of childhood diabesity. Children routinely eat diets of processed foods, fast foods, and sugary foods…their diets are virtual recipes for diabesity. Here’s how diet affects childhood diabesity.
When your child consumes starches and refined sugars, these foods hit the bloodstream quickly, causing a blood sugar spike. The pancreas must then produce the hormone insulin to move that sugar from the bloodstream to the cells. Over time, excessive insulin caused by a poor-quality diet causes the cells to become resistant to insulin. They no longer accept much of the insulin. But fat cells never become resistant. Blood sugar spikes end up in your child’s fat cells, where it can’t be reached for energy.
When glucose doesn’t get to the cells, it causes hunger, prompting your child to eat more starches and refined sugars that cause more blood sugar spikes. Insulin is not only the fat storage hormone, but it also keeps the body from burning fat for energy. Your child gains weight, which causes more insulin resistance. Eventually, it turns into type 2 diabetes.
The problem with processed foods and fast foods…
Processed foods and fast foods cause blood sugar spikes because they have little to no fiber content. There is nothing to prevent them from rapidly hitting your child’s bloodstream. (Studies show more than 60% of the average American’s total daily calories come from highly processed foods.) Children also ingest high amounts of fast foods and sugar- and processed-fat-laden junk foods. It is no wonder childhood diabesity has become an epidemic.
But it would be an entirely different story if your child ate a different SANEr type of diet. For instance, if your child ate more whole foods, such as non-starchy vegetables — there would be less of an effect on blood sugar levels because these foods hit the bloodstream gradually. This keeps blood sugar levels stable, preventing eventual insulin resistance. This would not only prevent obesity, but it would also prevent type 2 diabetes, making childhood diabesity impossible.
Sedentary activities and childhood diabesity
Children are not nearly as physically active today as they were thirty years ago. Indeed, many studies show children spend a significant part of each day in sedentary activities. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1988-1994 revealed that 26% of American children spent a minimum of 4 hours watching television per day. Further, this study found a correspondence between the number of hours they watched television and their body mass index (BMI). The more time they spend with television, the higher their body mass index.
At the time of this survey, personal computers weren’t so widely used, and there were no smartphones, tablets, etc. Today, television viewing is so “old school.” Recent studies show children spend an average of 5 hours per day on an electronic device, where they can play computer games, watch their favorite shows on the go, check their social media accounts, and so much more. Despite technological advances, operating an electronic device is still mostly a sedentary activity.
There are a couple of reasons why sedentary activities contribute to childhood diabesity. The first is that being physically active is necessary for proper blood sugar control as it helps burn off excess glucose. The second is that studies show children who stare at screens tend to snack, especially when they see ads for candy, sodas, and other junk foods.
Health complications of childhood diabesity
There are many severe health complications of childhood diabesity. Here are just a few of them:
- Nerve damage (Neuropathy)
- Vision damage (Retinopathy)
- Cardiovascular disease
- High cholesterol
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Gastrointestinal problems
Childhood diabesity not only increases the risk of developing these diseases earlier in their life, but it also increases the probable severity of these diseases.
Preventing childhood diabesity
The only good thing about childhood diabesity is that, if you catch it early enough, it gives you a chance to intervene in its progression to diabetes. Here are some tips you can implement today to prevent childhood diabesity and keep your child healthy.
Give your child a SANE diet
One of the best things you can do to decrease the risk of childhood diabesity is to consistently prepare your child a SANE diet. SANE foods are scientifically proven to heal hormones, reduce brain inflammation, and restore the proper balance of gut bacteria needed to lower setpoint weight so that your child can safely and easily lose weight — without hunger and without cravings.
Though these foods are delicious and filling, they keep blood sugar levels steady, helping make weight loss easy.
The SANE Diet is simple, too. No calories to count or foods to weigh. All you need to remember are the following food groups.
10+ servings per day
Some great choices include:
- Bell Peppers
3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal
Delicious choices include:
- Cottage Cheese
- Egg Whites
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Lean Meats
- Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt
3-6 servings per day
Great selections include:
- Chia Seeds
- Flax Seeds
- Macadamia Nuts
Yummy choices include:
- Goji Berries
Try to make sure your child eats the first three — non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense proteins, and whole-food fats — at every meal. When consumed together, these food groups will keep your child full longer, reduce sugar cravings, and trigger the release of fat-burning hormones.
Reduce processed food/sugar consumption
Preventing childhood diabesity also takes a commitment to reducing processed food consumption for your child. Though it does take some time, it is also not as difficult as you might think.
Here are a few tips to help you reduce processed food consumption.
- Reduce Just the Ultra-Processed Foods. All processed foods aren’t bad. Bagged salads, frozen fruits, and vegetables, canned tuna, etc., still retain their chemical properties, fiber, and most of their nutrients. These are minimally processed foods, and they are okay. You just need to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods, the ones loaded with preservatives, additives, artificial coloring/flavorings, added sugars, oils, and unhealthy fats.
- Start Slowly. The best way to make changes in a diet is to slowly remove processed foods a little at a time, giving your child a chance to get used to these little adjustments. If you take all processed foods away at once, your child will rebel, and it can only lead to failure.
- Don’t Remove, Replace. When you remove a processed food item, try to replace it with something equally tasty but SANE. For instance, riced cauliflower is a great substitute for starchy rice. Kale chips are SANEly delicious replacements for potato chips.
- Have SANE Snacks Ready. A veggie tray filled with celery and carrot sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and other non-starchy vegetables is a great way to satisfy your child’s “snack attack.” You can also keep some SANE Peanut Butter Energy Bites on hand for times your child needs a protein boost.
Make it SANE
- Make SANE soda. Studies show a large percentage of the sugar children consume comes from sodas and other sweetened beverages. You can help cut their sugar consumption way down by making their soda. Simply purchase unflavored carbonated water and low-fructose fruit of your choice. Put the carbonated water and fruit in a blender and blend for a few seconds. (You only need enough fruit to flavor the water. ) Voila. Instant soda! If you need your soda to be a bit sweeter, simply add Stevia or another natural sweetener to it.
- Bake SANE goodies. You can still serve your child delicious foods, even cakes and cookies. All you need to do is replace inSANE ingredients with SANE ones. For instance, replace regular flour with almond or coconut flour. Replace refined sugar with Erythritol, a natural sugar substitute.
Reduce children’s screen time
Like reducing processed foods, reducing children’s screen time also takes commitment. It, too, is not as difficult as you might think.
The best way to reduce children’s screen time is to schedule media times. Though it can be difficult to keep track of your child’s media usage, scheduling it means you can balance its usage with that of physical activity. For instance, you can require your child to take a 20-minute walk around the block after school before being permitted to use any electronic devices. Or, you can require them to finish their chores before sitting down at the computer.
Next step: End childhood diabesity with SANE
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