The Kid’s Doctor: Why is childhood diabetes on the rise?

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Juvenile diabetes is on the rise. | THINKSTOCKIMAGES.COM

Diabetes continues to be a growing problem among our nation’s children. Did you know that every year there are more than 25,000 children diagnosed with diabetes?

To begin with there are two different types of childhood diabetes, type 1 and type 2; and while both cause an elevated blood sugar, they also differ in many ways.

Type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile onset diabetes and is typically diagnosed in children and adolescents. Only 5 percent of those with diabetes have type 1. Many parents worry that their child may develop diabetes because they eat too much sugar. While eating sugar is not good for you, it does not directly cause type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells (insulin producing cells) of the pancreas. Scientists are not exactly sure why this occurs, but it seems to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and actually has nothing to do with diet.

Type 1 diabetes comes on suddenly and causes dependence on insulin for the rest of the child’s life. The symptoms of type 1 diabetes usually include extreme thirst, frequent urination (day and night), increased appetite and sudden weight loss. Children who develop type 1 diabetes appear tired, thin and sick. To many parents who worry that their child is diabetic, I tell them that they really cannot miss the symptoms and that just drinking a lot of water will not be the only symptom.

Fortunately, the ways in which insulin is given continues to improve and most children now use an insulin pump, which delivers insulin in a more consistent manner than in previous years. But, even with new insulin delivery systems and the hopes for pancreas transplants, type 1diabetes is challenging for a family to manage.

Type 2 diabetes, which was previously called “non-insulin dependent diabetes,” differs in that it was previously typically diagnosed in adults, but it is now rising in children. In type 2 diabetes, the body isn’t able to use insulin in the right way and the glucose in the blood stream is less able to enter the cells. This is called insulin resistance. So, the pancreas tries to produce even more insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Over many years the pancreas may wear out completely. Type 2 diabetes is sometimes controlled with an oral medication rather than insulin.

Type 2 diabetes seems to develop more frequently in those children who are overweight, less active and often have a parent with diabetes. As more children in this country have developed obesity, the number of cases of type 2 diabetes has also continued to rise. In many cases, if a child changes their lifestyle, eating a healthy diet, losing weight and exercising, the body may be able to restore normal insulin balance. In this way, type 2 diabetes differs from type 1 diabetes.

If you are concerned that your child is showing any signs of diabetes, make sure to consult your doctor. Continue to promote healthy eating habits and daily exercise.

Sue Hubbard, M.D. /The Kid’s Doctor; the

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