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Did you know the number of young people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is on the rise in Australia? It’s important to consider whether your child is at risk of developing this condition, and what you can do to help prevent this from happening.

What is Diabetes?

Insulin allows glucose to enter the human body’s cells.

The diabetic condition occurs when the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin – a hormone made by the pancreas. This means glucose (often called blood sugar) can’t get into the body’s cells, where it is needed for energy. Instead, glucose stays in the bloodstream instead, which can cause a variety of health problems.

There are two main types of diabetes:

1.  Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas does not produce insulin. About 13% of diabetics suffer from this form of diabetes.

2.  Type 2 diabetes, where the body makes insulin, but the body doesn’t use it properly. About 87% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle, and maintaining a healthy body weight can prevent most cases of type 2.

Why Should You Try to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

In the past, type 2 diabetes was a disease common mainly in middle-aged people and the elderly. However, given that obesity and being overweight greatly increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as the number of overweight young people has doubled in recent years, more and more young people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In fact, Diabetes Australia found that between 2004 and 2008 there was a 30% increase in diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes among young people aged 5 to 19 years.

People with diabetes are at greater risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputations.

If you’re in doubt about whether your child is at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, see a health professional.

How Can You Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes in Children?

Healthy eating is vital for well-being through every stage of life, especially in childhood.

Three of the most effective ways to help prevent children from developing type 2 diabetes is to ensure they:

  1. Take part in regular physical activity
  2. Develop healthy eating patterns
  3. Maintain a healthy body weight, or lose some weight if they are overweight or obese

How Much Exercise do Children Need for Good Health?

The Australian Government recommends children aged 5-17 should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day.

Give your child a pedometer or steps counting watch to monitor their activity levels. This should motivate them to move more. Make sure the goal focus is on their health and well-being.

Types of Moderate Physical Activity

  • Walking at a moderate pace, around 5 kilometres an hour
  • Tennis (try playing doubles, make it fun!)
  • Some types of housework, such as washing windows and vacuuming

Forms of Vigorous Physical Activity

Skipping or jump rope is one sure way to get your kid’s heart rate up!

Exercises that will make your kids huff and puff include:

  • Skipping
  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Fast dancing
  • Aerobics
  • Singles tennis
  • Cycling uphill
  • Swimming laps continuously
  • Touch rugby
  • Rugby

How Can You Encourage Children to Exercise More?

What are some easy ways to get your child excited about exercise? Here are some tried and tested techniques to help even the most stubborn kids get out there and have a go!

  • Buy your children “active gifts”. Things like soccer balls, footballs, cricket sets, badminton rackets and tennis rackets are great ideas. Or, buy your kids a pedometer and encourage them to record their daily steps – it can be really motivating if they see it as almost a ‘challenge’. Dance video games such as Dance Dance Revolution® and The Wiggles Dance Party® are also fun options, and effectively motivate kids to move, as is the WiiFit®  – an energetic game the whole family can enjoy.
  • Limit TV and non-active computer games to just one hour a day. Instead, encourage your kids to go outside and exercise with their friends, or play suitable “active games” inside. Remember to be sun smart when playing outdoors!
  • Make exercise fun!  Your kids are much more likely to do – and keep doing – regular exercise if they enjoy it. Get ideas from friends, family, exercise books, your child’s school or a sports centre. Don’t give up if they don’t like a particular sport, keep trying until they find something they love!
  • Get involved with your children’s exercise.  Set a good example with your children to show them that exercise is important, and can be fun and social – and something you can enjoy together. Take them to the park regularly and play ball games with them. Continuous cricket, soccer and football are some great weekend favourites.
  • Let your children walk or cycle to school. Walk or cycle with them, if you can. If you live too far from your children’s school, drive them part of the way and then let them walk the remainder of the journey. Remember, always have a responsible adult supervising the little ones.
  • Ask your children what types of exercise they might enjoy. You might need to try a few sports before you get one or two that your children really like, but the benefits are worth it. Give it time, and be patient. No one becomes a kung fu expert overnight!
  • Talk enthusiastically about the benefits of physical activity. Slip into conversations about how good exercise can make your children feel, how it can help them concentrate better at school, and boost their energy levels, improve their self esteem and strengthen their bones and muscles. Talk about it often, but don’t overdo it or nag them.

What is a Healthy Diet for Children?

Fruit smoothies are a great option for kids – providing them with essential nutrients including calcium from dairy and vitamins from fruit.A healthy diet for children is very similar to a healthy diet for adults – just remember to control portion sizes to match children’s smaller bodies.
  • Lots of fresh fruit, veggies, peas, beans and lentils.
  • Plenty of breads, grains, pasta and cereals – wholegrain are best. Remember, many cereals are high in fat, salt and sugar, so be sure to read the ingredients list and check the sugar and fat content aren’t overwhelming. Some cereals are just “junk food” disguised as health food! Choose healthy cereals, such as rolled oats, whole wheat and untoasted muesli.
  • Moderate amounts of lean meat, meat alternatives, fish, nuts, eggs, seeds, dairy products and dairy alternatives (such as soy milk and rice milk).
  • Small amounts of cooking oils, bread spreads, soft drinks, pastries, crisps, biscuits, cakes, pies, pasties and other high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar foods.

As a parent, no doubt you want your children to be happy and healthy. Helping prevent type 2 diabetes in young people is a vital step towards a healthier and happier generation. So help your kids eat well, exercise and maintain a healthy body weight. Start today!

References:

This article was compiled in consultation with CalorieKing.com.au experts and in reference to the following sources:

Diabetes Australia, ‘Media Release: Diabetes Australia calls for immediate action to tackle obesity’

Diabetes Australia, ‘Type 1 diabetes increasing’

Better Health Channel, ‘Obesity in children – causes’

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.
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