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Childhood diabetes: Is your family at risk?

7 Feb 2014 – 06:07 AM EST

Childhood diabetes is a silent intruder that could be affecting your kids. While there are two types of diabetes, usually only one type affects children. However, the rise in childhood obesity has led to a huge increase in children developing the either form of the disease. Fortunately, information on the symptoms, prevention, and treatment of diabetes in children is prevalent. Here’s what you need to know.

Types of diabetes

According to the United State’s Center for Disease Control and Protection, children were once very rarely diagnosed with any form of diabetes other than Type 1. In fact, Type 1 diabetes has long been referred to as “juvenile diabetes.” Type 1 diabetes occurs as a result of a defect in the immune system and is not related to obesity or family history.

Type 2 diabetes has been swiftly on the rise in children for the last decade. In fact, the medical community refers to it as an “epidemic.” Type 2 diabetes is caused by an insulin deficiency for reasons other than a defect in the immune system. The most common characteristic of Type 2 diabetes is obesity.

What to look for:

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include recent weight loss, extreme thirst, and frequent urination. Symptoms of Type 2 include frequent urination, increased thirst, tiredness, weight gain, and darkened patches of skin. However, diabetes symptoms often progress slowly, so a person may be impacted for a while without feeling bad. Diabetes is detected through blood testing. If you have concerns, talk to your child’s pediatrician right away.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes:

Children of African, Hispanic, Asian, or American heritage are more likely to develop the disease. A family history of the disease also increases the risk. Children with a body mass index of 85% or higher should be carefully monitored.

Questions to ask your doctor

How are my child’s numbers? Be aware of your child’s weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Are diabetes education or nutrition classes available? In many cases, health insurance companies will pay for these classes to teach families about healthy eating. Information may also be available through nonprofit groups in your area.

What are the best prevention steps? Your doctor will likely suggest serving your family a healthy diet filled with lean proteins, fresh produce, and whole grains. Avoiding fast food, sweets and junk food is typically suggested. Most doctors recommend an hour of physical activity (outdoor play, sports, walking, etc.) for children each day.

What are possible treatment methods if childhood diabetes is developed? Medication, which may include insulin shots, is usually needed to treat Type 1 diabetes. Lifestyle changes are sometimes attempted before medication with Type 2.

The possibility of childhood diabetes is a scary, but research into the disease continues. Being informed about your child’s risk factors and leading your family in a healthy lifestyle are powerful prevention tools.