Type 2 diabetes, at one time referred to as “adult-onset” diabetes, was practically unheard of in young people 20 years ago. Today, it is not only sweeping through youth populations but also leading to dire complications.
According to reports from a June 2002 press conference at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, documentation now points to complications associated with children having type 2 diabetes. These complications, according to the panel of experts, include death before age 30, kidney failure and dialysis, and miscarriages.
“Our youngsters spend too much time in front of a screen – a computer or a TV – instead of being outside jumping rope and playing ball,” warns Silvia Arslanian, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “And many schools have cut down on their physical education programs. Plus [children] are surrounded with calorically dense food-high fat, high simple sugars and low fiber-all of which lead to obesity, which is associated with insulin resistance.”
Researchers described a sampling of Canadians diagnosed with type 2 diabetes before the age of 17. Of the 51 diagnosed (today ranging in age from 18 to 33), two died from sudden death on dialysis, and three are now on dialysis. One young woman became blind at age 26, and one had a toe amputation. In addition, of 56 pregnancies among this study population, only 35 resulted in live births.
Dr. Arslanian paints a bleaker picture by comparing young people with type 2 to adults with type 2, who generally develop the disease when they are middle-aged.
“When an adult of 50 gets diabetes and then develops cardiovascular disease, that is bad enough. But when 14-year-old children already have indications of complications, that’s more serious because their longevity can be cut extremely short.”
While it may sound like a broken record, all of the experts say that increased physical activity and better nutrition should be the “cornerstone of therapy,” in addition to oral medications and insulin injections. However, says Dr. Arslanian, adherence is “terrible” in these young people.
“Parents need to know that obesity is not just about appearance but can place their children at severe medical risks.”