What You Must Know About Type 2 Diabetes and Children

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Did you know that type 2 diabetes in young people is on the increase in Australia? It’s important to think about whether your child is at risk of this health problem, and what you can do to help prevent it. Read on to find out more.

What is Diabetes?

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The diabetic condition is one in which the body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin – a hormone made by the pancreas. This means glucose (often called blood sugar) cannot get into the body’s cells, where it is needed for energy. The 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 diabetic persons have this form of diabetes.

2.  Type 2 diabetes, where the body makes insulin, but it cannot be used properly. About 87% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. Leading a healthy and active lifestyle, and maintaining a healthy body weight (or at least losing some weight) can prevent most cases of this condition.

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

In the past, type 2 diabetes was a disease that mainly middle-aged people and the elderly developed. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. With the rates of overweight and obese young people doubling in recent years, more and more young people are being diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes as a result. In fact Diabetes Australia said that between 2004 to 2008 there was a 30% increase in diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes in 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, compared to people who do not have diabetes.

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?

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

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

How Much Exercise do Children Need for Good Health?

The Australian Government recommends that each child does at least sixty minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.

What are Some Types of Moderate Physical Activity?pasted image 0 111

  • Walking at a moderate pace, so about 5 kilometres an hour
  • Doubles tennis
  • Some types of housework, such as washing windows and vacuuming

What Are Some Forms of Vigorous Physical Activity?

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Do you want to know some exercises that will make your kids huff and puff? Check out some activities from the list below.

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

How Can You Get Children to Exercise More?

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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 ‘ave a go!”

  • Buy your children “active gifts”. Ideas include soccer balls, footballs, cricket sets, badminton rackets and tennis rackets. Buy your kids a pedometer to record their daily steps. Dance video games such as Dance Dance Revolution® and The Wiggles Dance Party® are fun, and they motivate kids to move. Try out the WiiFit®  – it’s an exciting and energetic electronic game that the whole family can enjoy.
  • Limit TV and non-active computer games to just one hour a day. 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.
  • Get involved with your children’s exercise.  As they say: “Monkey see, monkey do!” Set a good example with your children to show them that exercise is important, and the entire family values it. Take them regularly to the park 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 rest of the way. Remember to always have at least one responsible adult supervising the little ones.
  • Ask your children what types of exercise they might enjoy. Go through your local community sports guide, or the Yellow Pages, with them to find one or more sports that your children are interested in. Ring around. 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 though, and be patient. No one has become a kung fu expert overnight!
  • Talk enthusiastically about the benefits of physical activity. Slip into conversations how good exercise can make your children feel, help them concentrate better at school, 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?

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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, lots of cereals are high in fat, salt and sugar, so be careful. Some are really “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 of winners. So help your kids to 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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