As a parent, you probably feel overwhelmed with information on how to keep your child healthy. When it comes to health conditions like diabetes, do you know where to begin? In recognition of National Diabetes Month, here are the basic facts parents should know about diabetes.
According to the CDC, 34.2 million Americans have diabetes. The majority of the people diagnosed with this chronic health condition are adults, but the rise of childhood obesity has caused people to develop diabetes at an earlier age. Another factor that has contributed to this increase is COVID-19. With extended time at home and online, long periods of inactivity and stress, a growing number of children are gaining excess weight.
While type 1 diabetes (T1D) is most commonly diagnosed in children, teens and young adults, only approximately 5 to 10% of people with diabetes have T1D. The majority have type 2 diabetes (T2D). In the past, T2D was rarely diagnosed in adolescents and children. A study conducted by the CDC in 2019, revealed that nearly 1 in 5 adolescences aged 12 to 18 years are living with prediabetes, an emerging condition in which blood sugar levels are elevated but are not high enough to be considered T2D. If no lifestyle changes occur, people who are prediabetic will likely go on to develop T2D.
Let’s break it down further!
T1D is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s own immune system attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin, the hormone that helps converts food into energy.
Symptoms typically develop quickly. Knowing what to look for can be lifesaving. Pay close attention if your child appears drowsier or thirstier than usual, has an abnormal appetite or “fruity” smelling breath or is experiencing unexplainable weight loss, strange changes in their behavior or urinating more frequently. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or suspect your child might have T1D.
When a child is diagnosed with T1D it can be stressful and disconcerting. A child with T1D will depend on daily insulin injections or had to wear an insulin pump to ensure their blood sugar levels are within a normal range. It will also mean parents must carefully monitor their child’s food intake, do regular blood sugar checks and be vigilant for hypoglycemia or low blood sugar which can be caused by taking the wrong dose of insulin, missing a meal or not keeping track of carbohydrates accurately, among other things.
T2D develops over many years and about 90 to 95% of people with diabetes have this type. In the past, it was known as adult-onset diabetes because it was most commonly diagnosed in adults due to its slow and gradual development. However, with the obesity epidemic, children are now at higher risk of developing T2D. With T2D, a person will still produce insulin, but it is often not enough. The person may also become insulin resistant causing sugar to build in the blood.
Prevention is key with T2D. If your child is overweight, has a family history of diabetes, is in their early teens and does not exercise regularly consider talking to your pediatric provider about their risk for developing T2D. Girls and African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos, Native American/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, or Pacific Islanders are also at a higher risk of developing T2D.
If your child has T2D, you will need to help your child maintain a normal weight, eat healthy foods, get regular physical activity, monitor blood sugar levels for hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and if necessary, take insulin or other medicines to help manage the condition. Life with T2D is not easy, there are many stigmas associated with the diagnosis and requires lifestyle changes that might make them feel isolated from their peers.
Living with diabetes.
In the beginning, it can all seem foreign and complicated but talking to your doctor to create a care plan to help you get started on the right path. Look for support groups, empower yourself by learning about the disease and talk openly with your child about the diagnosis. Be positive and honest, let your child know they are not alone and listen to their concerns. Over time you and your child will begin to understand and feel more comfortable with how to properly manage diabetes. Medical costs can be another stressful point. Nonprofits like Help a Diabetic Child work to ensure children in need have access to insulin and other essential diabetes medical supplies.
While diabetes is a chronic condition, through healthy lifestyle choices and medication, if needed, it can be managed. A child with diabetes can go on to live a healthy, bright and full life.
About the Author
Dr. Douglas Halbert is a board-certified pediatrician with Healthcare Network, a Federally Qualified Health Center that cares for nearly half of the children in Collier County. Visit www.HealthcareSWFL.org or call 239-658-3000 to make an appointment today.