Childhood Type 2 Diabetes Related To Obesity Is On The Rise

What is Type 2 Diabetes Again?

There are two types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. While both types cause blood sugar, or glucose levels to rise higher than normal, an individual with type 2 diabetes produces the insulin necessary to regulate the blood sugar, but the body does not respond to the insulin as it should. Because the body is not using the insulin properly, the pancreas generates more insulin than necessary and over time the pancreas can become worn out by the overproduction. If the pancreas no longer works as efficiently as it should, it will not “produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.” At this point, glucose levels in the blood become repeatedly high and unhealthy—potentially leading to a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

Causes and Complications of Type 2 Diabetes

While type 1 diabetes is also known as “juvenile diabetes,” the risk of type 2 diabetes in children has been on the rise.  One of the main culprits for the increase of type 2 diabetes in children is weight. In the United States, 31.3 percent of children between the ages of 10 to 17 years old are either overweight or obese. Although being overweight or obese does not automatically lead to diabetes, a child’s risk for diabetes doubles when they fall within that range. Unhealthy eating, lack of physical activity, or a family history of obesity can all contribute to a child becoming overweight.

When a child is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes the risk of developing other medical conditions increases substantially. High blood pressure (hypertension), abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, skin conditions, and polycystic ovary syndrome (in girls) are just a few conditions often associated with type 2 diabetes. If type 2 diabetes is not properly treated or controlled in childhood, long term conditions like “heart disease, stroke, eye problems, kidney disease, nerve damage, and gum disease” could develop in adulthood.

The Cost of Diabetes

The cost of diabetes in the United States continues to rise. In 2007, the cost of diabetes (for both type 1 and type 2) was estimated at $174 billion. Five years later the costs were estimated to be $245 billion- an increase of 41 percent. A study completed by the American Diabetes Association determined that, on average, people diagnosed with diabetes “have medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.” Diabetes can lead to a “reduced quality of life,” which can have a major impact on an individual’s ability to work and care for one’s self. Expenditures from diabetes alone put a huge financial and social burden on the United States.

Reducing Childhood Diabetes

Because weight is the main cause of type 2 diabetes in children, education and preventative care can greatly reduce the number of children impacted. Eating a well-balanced diet and finding a way to incorporate daily physical activity has proved to help sustain a healthy weight. Even if a child has been diagnosed with diabetes, exercise and an improved diet can help that child maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Additionally, having medical checkups on a regular basis is also an important step in preventing diabetes in children​. Health care providers can not only determine if a child is at risk for type 2 diabetes, but they can also provide parents with information for preventative care. If children develop healthy habits at a young age, it will be more likely for those children to continue those habits and become healthy adults.

Conclusion

Type 2 diabetes in children has been on the rise over the past decade. This rise has costs the United States’ health care system billions of dollars. Understanding the risk factors will help reduce the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. While type 2 diabetes in children is not always preventable, many times a well-balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk substantially. Having a better understanding of the causes, the preventative care, and the financial burden of diabetes can motivate parents, children, and even policymakers to make better decisions when it comes to reducing the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in children.

Lauren E. Masching is pursuing her law degree and health law certificate at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Class of 2017. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa and has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She is an active member of the Michael and Mary Jaharis Health Law Institute as Co-Director of Outreach and Recruitment. Lauren is interested in pursuing a career in either Administrative Health Law or working in-house after graduation.