While Type 2 Diabetes is traditionally known as adult-onset Diabetes, doctors say that they are seeing a rise in cases involving children. The incidence of Type 2 Diabetes was considered a rarity in children two decades ago…but that was also a time when children were out on the streets playing, rather than being plugged to some game indoors. As we undergo a radical economic and lifestyle transformation, an epidemiological transition is also emerging - with a rise in Type 2 Diabetes in children becoming a major worrying trend. “The factors that have given rise to lifestyle diseases in India include the dropping levels of physical activity, increased intake of high calorie food and a total sedentary way of living… leading to an increase in the overweight population. Unfortunately, these conditions do not leave children untouched. A major concern today in urban centres is a rise in child obesity. When this combines with a genetic predisposition, it sometimes leads to the early onset of Type 2 Diabetes,” says Dr. Sandeep Kharb, Consultant, Endocrinology, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon. Obesity, particularly excess abdominal weight, increases the chances of insulin resistance in the body. With less focus on exercise and physical activity, and the easy availability of high calorie food, a lot of children today are turning overweight at an early age. “Unlike in rural areas and smaller towns, where children still cycle to school or venture out to the playgrounds every evening, urban kids are increasingly becoming couch potatoes. Addiction to television and video games, changes in modes of transportation, and the increased presence of elevators in all establishments has drastically reduced the levels of (physical) activity in children. Further, high energy low fibre foods, like burgers and pizzas, are available in plenty in school cafeterias - and many kids lap up these delicacies on an everyday basis. Undesired weight gain is a logical outcome,” adds Dr. Kharb.
One of the major threats to healthy living, Diabetes today afflicts over 65 million Indians – already the second highest population of diabetics in the world (after China). It would be dangerous for the health of the country to allow children to fall into the Diabetes trap. There is enough scientific evidence to suggest that a large number of cases of Diabetes can be prevented by following a healthy diet and indulging in regular physical activity. The onset of Diabetes can certainly be prevented or delayed in children and young adults. The solution lies in changing our urban culture before it is too late. Along with parents, schools too need to become more active in preventing a childhood Diabetes epidemic.
Diabetes Prevention in Children
Make exercise a national culture: Unlike the West, urban Indians are yet to accept exercise as a daily necessity. We need to push our children out of the house every evening. Let them roam and run and burn their fat. Reduce their time spent on video games. Schools too need to allot compulsory hours for physical activity and play.
Promote a balanced diet: Even though it is convenient and quick, even both-spouses-working families should not get dependent on fast food. Make sure the children follow a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, wholegrain and fibre. Here again schools have a role to play, by keeping track of the items being served in their cafeterias.
While we can see the rising threat, we do not have much concrete data or research to establish the specific reasons for this rise in Diabetes among children. We need to better understand the causes, with the help of a large volume of valid data. This will also help public health professionals to come up with better preventive measures.